The Tambopata-Bahuaja Biodiversity Reserve in Peru has reached two important milestones in 2019 for cacao processing and international exportation. These include the formal opening of its processing plant and its first export of cacao!
However, before we go into this, here’s some background on why this is important. A key focus of our Tambopata project is to generate a social impact for local communities as well as climate and environmental benefits. This is achieved through developing alternative livelihoods that actually help to restore and conserve land rather than degrade it and are also provide a better life for local people at the same time. As a result, AIDER, our project partner on the ground, has developed a cacao cooperative in the buffer zone of the project.
Why? Peru grows high quality cacao beans and on average produces almost 700 kg per ha on plantations. However, if this was well-managed with the correct agro-forestry systems that number could be closer to 1200kg per ha, which is what AIDER aim for. Therefore, there is an economic incentive for farmers around Tambopata to become a member of the cooperative. The aggregated impact across the buffer zone is that it creates an economic barrier to stop deforestation in the project. This is why the project has set a target of 4,000 ha of cacao planted with 380 farmers by 2021. The objective is to show that the model is sustainable, this is compounded when you ensure the market for the products and also create an environment of trust throughout the system. Furthermore, when you add in a price that benefits the farmers and also helps gain organic and Fairtrade certifications the model becomes even more favourable.
When a farmer starts to grow cacao, seedlings begin in the nursery for nine months. After the first nine months, the cacao is re-located to the fields where it takes up to three years to grow. After the first harvest in year four, the yield produced increases significantly until about six years where there is a full harvest. This is great once you get to year four, but until that point farmers make no money from cacao. Therefore, AIDER has introduced agroforestry systems whereby farmers plant other crops such bananas and papayas in between the cacao plants that take far less time to produce a crop. Therefore, farmers have an income whilst they wait for the cacao to develop. More diversified fields are also helping to restore degraded lands and are providing wildlife corridors for biodiversity.
First international export of cacao
The exciting news from the project is that it has now been four years since AIDER started the cooperative (Cooperativa Agraria de Servicios Múltiples Tambopata Candamo) and planting cacao, and the first significant harvest has been successfully produced. As a result, the project has sent its first international export of 20 tonnes of aromatic cacao to a chocolatier based in Italy in the summer of 2019. The farmer’s hard work is paying off! The aim is to supply the increasing demand for high quality cacao across the world which is increasing at around 5-6% globally per year. And the best bit is that farmers are improving their livelihoods, helping fulfil the increasing demand for cacao and saving forests at the same time.