In Bolivia, microloans lift thousands of women from poverty

mujeres productoras de cebolla dulce, participantes del Programa
Participants in the Semilla programme tend to a sweet-onion harvest. (Photo: UNDP Bolivia/Bolivia Produce)

Linet Claros Yevara, a resident of Mizque, a municipality in Bolivia with an 85 percent rate of extreme poverty rate, has seen her situation improve a lot lately.

“My family eats better," she says. "Every day I give them fruit.”

These improvements are thanks to the Semilla, or Seed, programme, a microcredit and skills-development programme financed by the Government of Spain (through the MDG Fund), and supported by the Bolivian Ministry of Justice.

Bolivia has one of the highest levels of inequality of any country in the region, and indigenous women are the main victims of this dynamic of exclusion. An indigenous woman who is active in the informal economy earns an average of US $97 a month, compared with $395 for a non-indigenous man in the formal sector.


  • Through microloans, women raised their incomes between 53 percent and 263 percent, leading to poverty reduction in their communities.
  • 2,736 women received management training
  • 6,903 women received technical assistance to enhance their production capacities

One third (34.4 percent) of adult women in rural Bolivia have no formal education. Marina Carbalo, a leader of the Jatun Rumi women’s trade union in Colomi, explains that “our husbands’ work is not enough anymore; we women have to support our homes and, particularly, (support) our children more.”

4,640 indigenous women have received microloans under the $9 million Semilla programme, offering them the opportunity to open small sewing shops; buy  tools to make jewelry, weave or craft leather; start small-scale production of handmade yogurt, cheese, honey, ice cream, sodas and pastries; or raise hens, chicken and pigs, among other businesses.

Communities have also contributed. Copacabana, for example, an Aymara village located on the shores of Lake Titicaca, with 60 percent of the population living in extreme poverty, invested $3,325 (along with a $11,000 loan provided by the Semilla programme) to facilitate production of quinoa-based food products in the area.

In Colomi, a Quechua valley in Cochabamba with a 69 percent extreme poverty rate, the community contributed $200 towards the acquisition of bees, while the Semilla programme paid $770 to purchase five beehives, a centrifuge and beekeeping suits (to protect against bee stings). Since then, the Colomi women harvest and sell honey.

The programme has also enabled 12,817 women to fully enjoy their citizen rights for the first time by helping them obtain birth certificates and identification cards; these documents are required to have access to bank loans and to exercise the right to vote.

In addition, nearly 2,000 women received basic management training and learned how to account for expenses and revenues in order to better understand how much money their businesses are making or losing; many others received technical assistance to improve production.

“There are fellow women who are very hopeful, who need this help and training”, says Quintina Hualpa, a councilwoman in the municipality of San Julián.

Under an interagency intervention framework aimed at achieving the Millennium Development Goals in Bolivia, the microcredit scheme was managed by UNDP, while training and legal support efforts were implemented by UNIDO, FAO and UN Women.

The intervention methodology developed during the four years of the Semilla programme (2009-2012) and based on Bolivia’s specific conditions will serve as the key blueprint for a new public policy framework design focused on reducing poverty and empowering women, says UNDP Bolivia Deputy Representative Claudio Providas. This policy is already being developed, with UNDP assistance, by the Minister of Productive Development, Teresa Morales.

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