As the second largest producer of coca in the world, Peru has a long and violent history of drug production and trafficking. Thanks to the United Nation’s Alternative Development Programme (ADP) which works closely with the Government and farmers to provide viable alternatives to coca bush cultivation, the San Martín region of Peru has made the move into cacao production and as a result cacao exports are now up 400%, putting Peru close to the top ten biggest producers in the world.
A great example of a recent success story is one of Shared Interest’s customers, Tocache, who have emerged victorious from Salon du Chocolat in Paris. This prestigious annual summit of the world’s master choclatiers, saw the small cocoa co-operative’s produce named the most aromatic in the world. Elena Rios, secretary of Tocache said: “The area used to be known for making cocaine paste, but now we are known for chocolate.” Elena gave up growing coca leaves 10 years ago, opting to take part in a program to replace her plants with cacao. “There were only 12 of us when we started; now we have hundreds. Our success is contagious. No one wants to grow coca. Everyone is thinking about chocolate.”
Elsewhere in the region, Acopagro, Peru’s main cacao exporter continues to thrive. Established in 1997 under the ADP, the organisation now boasts over 1,500 members. General Manager, Gonzola Rios who has been with the co-operative since the beginning says of the cacao producers “Acopagro is a big family, not just a co-operative.” As a result the co-operative has been developing and implementing a variety of different social, environmental and economic projects with the aim of improving the quality of life of their farmers as well as the future of the business. Perhaps most impressive is the Carbon Capture Programme. The scheme currently has over 600 participants and for every tree the farmers plant on their land, they receive 30 cents. The key objectives of the program are to diminish the effects of global warming, protect biodiversity in the region and to generate a sustainable income for the co-operatives’ members for the future.
In addition to the Carbon Capture Program, the co-operative also works with its members to ensure that the right training and financial support are available. Similarly the co-operative encourages diversification and the conservation of ecosystems, including soil erosion and water management schemes. All of this will help to improve the living conditions of members and protect their livelihoods for future generations.
Whilst San Martín still has some coca, cacao farms are taking hold. The U.N Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) talks about a “San Martín Model” as a success story for replacing coca with legal crops, saying: “Chocolate is leading the way and we are proud to see our customers at the forefront of this movement.”
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