Indigenous Business From The Amazon?

A few weeks ago I made this post about going to the amazon to spend time living with indigenous indians.  They’re pretty disconnected from the business world – or are they?

To get there required flying to Leticia (pop 30,000), a city in the south of Colombia.  This city is at the bottom tip of the country, on the border with Brazil and Peru.  It is so far south that it is actually below the guerilla activity in colombia (normally in colombia you hear don’t go to the jungle in the south because you can get kidnapped).

Then you can either drive into the amazon (about 90 mins) or catch a boat (about 2 hours).  We did both.

One of the big things that surprised me was that they have CELLPHONES working in the middle of the jungle!  We had coverage all over the place – apparently the per minute rate is the same as in the capital city.

Most indigenous groups had a couple of people with cellphones.  And they would occasionally take calls.  They’re not used all the time, just occasionally for important messages.  These people have an income of ~$50/month, so a cellphone bill is significant.

So a few things are clear – transportation to get from indigenous settlements to small towns was easy and could be done once per week.  And cellphones work.  No, I don’t know if data works yet, probably it does not, but I’m sure it will in the future.

Electricity was either non existent, or one group had it working from around 1pm until 10pm each day.

 They currently sell lots of trinkets to tourists who come by.. But its not that reliable a business.  Currently they are dependent on the government for building their housing..  Their clothes are used clothes from the first world.. Plastic plates are a big innovation for them.

I also noticed they didn’t really understand capitalism.  They didn’t have the concept of having a dream and then working really hard to make that dream happen.  I am quite sure this CAN happen, and once they are exposed to these concepts that they can progress economically at a great rate.

Right now they are subsistence living, but if they were given access to international market places via the internet, combined with local ingenuity I am quite sure they can learn to produce many useful things for sale internationally.

Go down there sometime.  Its really fun and interesting.