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Selva Nevada: Empowering Indigenous communities through biodiverse products

Catalina Alvarez

We promote the consumption of super-fruits and natural ingredients in national and international markets, creating a clear link between consumer choice and sustainable use of biodiversity from tropical markets.

Catalina Alvarez

Catalina Alvarez, co-founder of Selva Nevada, Colombia

2021 WE Empower Finalist, Latin America and Caribbean

Catalina Alvarez has worked for over fourteen years on various projects that seek to improve the economic conditions of small rural producers in Colombia. Alvarez helped to found Selva Nevada which brings the rich biodiversity of Colombia to the market through producing and commercializing specialist-made ice creams, pulps, and concentrates. Through sustainable practices, Selva Nevada partners with indigenous families who live in Colombian tropical forests to generate non-timber forest products (NTFPs) income, protecting their natural resources and biodiversity while also creating dependable incomes for rural communities.

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New approach to land stewardship

Deforestation and the destruction of natural landscapes not only degrades the environment but destroys the habitats for life on land, increasing biodiversity loss. Combating this destruction, Selva Nevada “adds value to non-timber products by promoting and enabling the sustainable, use, transformation and commercialization of forest products”. Creating a market for sustainably produced fruits, disincentivizes converting forest lands to pastures and monoculture crops for agricultural purposes. While many talk about preserving tropical forests and biodiversity hotspots through new laws and regulations, Selva Nevada takes an approach that involves local indigenous communities to transform market demands. In alignment with SDG 15 (Life on Land), the company promotes and works with their producers to create sustainable forest management practices and integrate agroforestry.

Access for Indigenous communities

Urban centers are the main hubs of consumption, creating economic opportunities for all kinds of people and businesses; Selva Nevada jumped onto the opportunities of urban centers by marketing their products heavily in these areas. This effectively helped to increase the demand for non-timber forest products, growing their business and increasing income for rural, indigenous communities. With SDG 8 and SDG 10 (Decent Work and Economic Growth & Reduced Inequality) at the forefront of Selva Nevada’s business model, the company “increases income generation for isolated rural communities and commercializes NFTPs”. Through increasing participation from these communities, inequalities are lessened and economic advancement is heightened which in turn helps to increase their quality of life and links them to urban markets.

Washing fruit

Transformative gender equality

After years of violent clashes in the country, families, and especially women, were left harmed and distrustful of others due to the extreme conflict that occurred. The powerful transformation that Selva Nevada has within Colombian rural communities extends to women, “providing training for empowerment and improving incomes and financial independence”. This company provides personal development workshops that provide strategies to de-escalate conflicts and work to rebuild trust within communities. Selva Nevada provides a new economic source that builds on SDG 5 (Gender Equality) to empower women to gain financial independence and become changemakers within their communities. 

Striving to reach the UN SDGs through business models may seem daunting at first, but companies such as Selva Nevada exemplify the positive impacts that can be accomplished through the integration of such powerful goals. 

My mother has always been a very strong woman, with a character that encouraged us to take risks and assume responsibility.

Catalina Alvarez
Selva Nevada ice cream

The WE Empower UN SDG Challenge is a first of its kind global competition for women entrepreneurs who are pushing the UN Sustainable Development Goals and leading innovation in sustainability and climate change through their businesses. This Contributing Series highlights finalists of the Challenge whose work demonstrates how business models and social entrepreneurship can drive global impact.

by Ella Schneider