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The richest cacao grows in harmony with nature

By Practical Action in Latin America On 17.06.2024 FarmingFood & agricultureMarketsBlog

In the heart of the Amazon, farmers Gerardo, Álvaro, Sergio, and Vicente of the Kanús Cooperative have transformed their cacao cultivation, blending traditional methods with modern techniques. Supported by Practical Action, they’ve boosted their yields and market presence while preserving their natural environment. Follow their resilience, collaboration, and sustainable development journey in the vast green forests along the Santiago River.

Gerardo Timias, Álvaro Celestino, Sergio Huachapa and Vicente Sharup, farmers from Condorcanqui in the Amazon region, have dedicated their entire lives to working the land. However, three years ago, they took on the challenge of organising themselves and improving as producers of the crop that is a symbol of opportunity for the seventeen native communities established in the district of Río Santiago: cacao.

“Before, we sold very little. When the project came in, we improved our cocoa farms by fertilising the land, spraying, and pruning. Our farms are now producing quality cacao. Now we are harvesting more”, emphasises Álvaro, farmer and member of Kanus, the cooperative he promotes together with Gerardo, Sergio and Vicente.

For its members, the Kanus Cooperative has provided an opportunity to formalise themselves as traders, ensure the sale of their product, increase the price of cacao and improve their families’ income.

Three people seated on the ground in a lush, green environment, holding and displaying large, cracked-open fruits, possibly cacao beans, with trees and foliage in the background.

Facing adversity

Their path, however, has not been without difficulties. Native farmers struggle with pests, crop failures and the challenges of a market that is not friendly to small producers. Gerardo, president of the Kanús Cooperative, recounts how pests invaded the farms before the project’s intervention. This seriously affected the crops; the members were no longer interested in working on the farms. In many cases, the community’s own thoughts limited better cocoa production. Vicente, chairman of the cooperative’s supervisory board, explains how they considered fertilisation unnecessary. “Last time, we did not fertilise, thinking that there were enough nutrients in the soil for the plants. This was not the case”, he says.

Another difficulty for the small cocoa farmers was dealing with the risks of the market. They often did not have regular buyers, or the buyers were late in making payments. Unfortunately, the community had no experience in marketing products and no access to the banking system. These technical and economic difficulties affected the farmers’ income, and they could not harvest quality produce or sell it at a good price. Therefore, the four-year project “Development of the cocoa value chain in native communities in the middle and lower part of the Santiago River basin,” which lasted from October 2018 to September 2022, strengthened the production, marketing, and associative capacities of cocoa producers in the district’s Awajún-Wampis communities.

To tackle pests and crop failure, the project provided the Kanús Cooperative with technical advice on pruning management, removal of spoiled fruits, fertilisation and weed cultivation. The intervention also provided technicians and trained promoters to support the farmers’ work. As a result of the training, cocoa crops have improved in quality and quantity.

Two men in a green orchard, one of them using a tool to cut branches. The ground is covered with leaves and debris.

Promoting local development

The Kanús Cooperative has become an actor contributing to the development of the community. With improved cocoa production, the families of Condorcanqui have better income and opportunities. In addition, the cooperative receives profits from the purchasing companies, generating funds for members to apply for loans and make investments.

“This is an asset for them that can be used for cocoa management, to expand their farms, to improve their fish farms or for any other investment they deem appropriate. That is why we have prioritised this credit to the members”, explains Gerardo about the cooperative’s credit fund, which he has promoted as president.

For example, Álvaro, as a farmer, received marketing training and could access credit from the cooperative to invest in a winery, which improved his family’s income. “The shop is a help that has allowed me to help my children in terms of food, health and education”, says Álvaro, commenting on his new business, which is complementary to his work as a farmer.

A man in a maroon shirt stands behind a child in a black Frozen-themed t-shirt. They are inside a small, well-stocked store with various items on shelves in the background.

In addition to technical and financial advice, the intervention contributed with technology and the construction of storage centres for larger-scale storage, making it easier for farmers to accumulate their production for sale. “We don’t just sell one month and we’re done. It is a sustainable crop because it helps us for several years, it is sustaining us for several years,” says Vicente, president of Kanus, reflecting on the stability of his farming activity.

The cacao community, including Gerardo, Álvaro, Sergio and Vicente, is convinced of the value of their work and that it is possible to get ahead in harmony with nature by cultivating a better future for their families and the environment. “It is possible to be a farmer and also take care of the forests and the environment. As indigenous peoples, we live from this. The forest is our livelihood”, concludes Gerardo, a leader who, as president, is an inspiration for the Kanús partners.

The project “Development of the cocoa value chain in native communities in the middle and lower part of the Santiago River Basin” was implemented by Practical Action within the framework of the Amazon Inter-Basin Investment Programme of the Peru Chapter of the Binational Development Plan for the Peru-Ecuador Border Region, with the participation of the District Municipality of Río Santiago and the participating communities.

Learn more about our work in Peru