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Selva Nevada

Man climbs a tropical tree using a harness in Colombia

Seeding hope and harvesting progress in rural Colombian communities

  • Case Study
  • Agriculture
  • Latin America
  • 2018
of farmers gained access to a service
of farmers increased their revenues

Selva Nevada is a high-end artisanal ice cream and frozen fruit company that sources indigenous fruits from smallholder farmers in post-conflict regions in Colombia. By providing opportunities for economic stability, companies like Selva Nevada are contributing to building a lasting peace in the country.

The problem

For 60 years, Colombia’s internal armed conflict halted rural development across the country. The presence of different illegal armed groups prompted the displacement of many rural communities into other regions and forced farmers to engage in illegal crop production. In addition to many rural areas lacking access to basic services, infrastructure, and markets, forced displacement and illegal crop production have deepened the cycle of poverty, increased violence and mistrust within rural communities, and isolated them from the rest of the country. As a result, 27% of Colombia’s rural population still lives in poverty.

In Colombia, creating economic opportunities in conflict-affected regions is fundamental to avoid a relapse into violence. Thus, different public and private actors have long attempted to find solutions to tackle issues of rural poverty in post-conflict parts of the country. However, opportunities to boost incomes, connect smallholder farmers to markets, and ultimately improve livelihoods are still limited.

The solution

Selva Nevada is addressing issues of rural poverty by partnering with smallholder farmer associations in isolated regions in Colombia. It sources exotic fruits, native to post-conflict areas such as the Amazon basin and the Chocó-Darien rainforest, as ingredients for its delicious frozen products: ice creams, smoothies, fruit-pulp blends, and bowls. These products are manufactured in a centralized facility in Bogotá, then sold at Selva Nevada’s ice cream shops and other channels, ultimately linking rural farmers with premium markets. Rural farmers also benefit from long-term and equitable trade agreements with the company, thus differentiating Selva Nevada from other buyers. Purchase prices are set based on smallholder farmers’ production costs, and purchase agreements are renegotiated every year to take into consideration current market prices, price forecasts, as well as the interests of both parties. Moreover, their business model is committed to ensuring sustainable land use, positively contributing to the conservation of Colombia’s biodiversity. 

“Now we can sell the fruit, and there is also a better relationship with colleagues. The community has improved, friendships have been made, and we share teachings, knowledge about the environment, and other things. We learn from each other.”

Customer of Selva Nevada

The origin

After years of working on international aid projects in the public sector, siblings Catalina and Alejandro Alvarez saw that many programs, although benefiting communities in the short term, weren’t sustainable for the long term.

This moved them to take the long-term approach of creating a business that builds relationships of trust with post-conflict rural communities. They co-founded Selva Nevada with Antonuela Ariza and Mario Fernando Rojas. “We believe it’s better to have an equitable relationship, where we are partners [with grassroots organizations], where we both take risks and where we are both impacted by profits and losses,” says Catalina

Initially, their business model focused on exclusively selling their products to restaurants. Today, in addition to their B2B channels, they also have their own brand of manufactured products and have opened five ice cream shops in Bogotá.

The impact

Selva Nevada is working with 13 associations located in different regions like Caquetá, Putumayo, and Chocó. Some of these are women-led organizations, like the ASPARAISO-NUTRISELVA suppliers of the Amazonian “acai.” Selva Nevada has worked with over 360 rural families from eight different regions in Colombia, and has impacted over 1,400 lives.

Thus far, Selva Nevada has exceeded expectations. The company has provided farmer associations with training, access to funds, and farming best practices. Further, by creating market access for exotic fruits, the company has created a new source of income for farmers. 
Selva Nevada improves livelihoods by generating a new source of income for non-indigenous farmers and one of the few sources of monetary income for indigenous communities. Selva Nevada is empowering smallholder farmer organizations by transferring the pulping process to them, allowing them to reap additional value. Furthermore, by harvesting and processing fruit from the rainforests, the company’s solution helps avoid deforestation that would otherwise occur for crops or cattle ranching.

The investment

Acumen invested equity in Selva Nevada in 2018. The investment has been used to increase the production capacity of its manufacturing facility, secure more grocery store clients, and build new retail locations.

“Everything has improved with the payment system, there is a more punctual payment, and this benefits the household with so many things that must be paid, such as water and energy services.”

The story

Nini Medina calls Puerto Leguízamo home. This small town, accessible only by plane or boat, is located in the heart of Colombia’s Amazon rainforest. Known for its exotic biodiversity, Puerto Leguizamo has also witnessed the harshness of the armed conflict. However, a new chapter is unfolding thanks to leaders like Nini and companies like Selva Nevada.

Nini is an entrepreneur, businesswoman, and farmer. Together with her husband, she supplies “camu camu,” an Amazonian superfruit, to Selva Nevada. Before her association partnered with the company, they struggled to get their products out to the market and, thus, to have a stable source of income. 

Selva Nevada fosters stable incomes for smallholder farmers through long-term partnerships with associations and guaranteed purchase volumes. In some cases, Selva Nevada also offers them working capital during the harvest season. In Nini’s words, “the income from Selva Nevada is an income that we did not expect […]. It hasn’t made us rich, but thank God, it has gotten us out of trouble.”

As part of these partnerships, Selva Nevada also helps equip associations with new machinery or cold storage facilities so that farmers can use it to grow their incomes and to support their operational growth. Beyond operational support, Selva Nevada also provides associations with leadership and productive capacity workshops in cooperation with partners like Acumen. The combined effect of these interventions has been to deepen Selva Nevada’s impact, improving farmers’ quality of life through stable sources of income and strengthened community relations. Women, in particular, report higher quality of life improvement and 93% report increased agency over their savings and income: “I am learning the value of myself as a person, as a woman. As a woman, I have the same capacity to answer questions and answer to business opportunities,” says Nini Medina, about working with Selva Nevada. 

Associations are important civil society actors playing a key role in economic development and peace in rural areas in Colombia. Selva Nevada’s model recently received the 2023 Premio Emprender Paz (Peace Entrepreneurship Award), an award for businesses that have contributed to building lasting peace in Colombia and that have the power to transform vulnerable populations. By partnering with associations and providing licit opportunities for economic development and access to markets, Selva Nevada’s impact on farmers is immediate. At the same time, the company’s approach ultimately contributes to combating rural poverty and constructing systems of change in post-conflict regions.