Intensive agriculture has spread to the Amazon highlands, cutting down trees and destroying the habitat of endangered species such as spectacled or Andean bears, different types of monkeys, cockatoos and parrots. Agroforestry systems in cocoa and coffee can regenerate these areas and benefit producers in the region, according to Helsin Farro Torres and María Domitila Ortiz, co-workers and leaders of the APROCAM cooperative in Amazonas, Peru.
María is 42 years old. She has been working in cocoa since she was 13 and has received training on how to implement agroforestry systems from APROCAM. This included training in farm management, from pest and disease control to pruning and the use of environmentally friendly inputs. To support its members, the cooperative is also developing a nursery for cocoa, fruit, and forestry seedlings, which will be given to producers who need to renew their plantations.
From 2020 to 2022, Rikolto has been working with APROCAM cooperative, as part of the Cacao Noramazónico Sostenible Project (included in the SeCompetitivo programme facilitated by Helvetas).In the regions of San Martín, Amazonas, Piura and Tumbes, the project has reached 2,385 small cocoa producers who are members of farmer cooperatives.
The APROCAM cooperative currently has 256 members who produce cocoa and coffee in the Amazon region. They are mainly based in the Copallín, Imaza, La Peca, El Parco and Aramango districts, in the province of Bagua. They export around 300 tonnes of native cocoa in fermented dry beans to Italy and Switzerland and set aside 5% for the production of their own chocolate, sold locally and nationally under the brand name "Bagua."
In 2020, APROCAM launched its agroforestry systems initiative. The cooperative has been working to promote the conservation of forest species such as capirona, oak, cedar and mahogany on the hectares used to grow cocoa. Within the cooperative, the agroforestry systems approach is supported by members like Maria, who is convinced that managing shade trees is essential for organic cocoa, the soil, and the ecosystem.
"If cocoa and coffee plants lack shade, they go bad. So I have learned to manage trees such as laurel, cedar and aguaviva: they provide shade and organic fertiliser that helps keep the plants moist." María Ortiz, producer and member of APROCAM.
On her farm Las Chontas, in the community of Umbate, in the district of La Peca, María cultivates four hectares of cocoa and coffee under shade trees. The cooperative is training its members to grow shade trees and has, with the support of Rikolto, installed an organic composting equipment at its head office to produce 20 tonnes of compost a year.
Helsin explains that, thanks to the project, there are now 11 agroforestry demonstration plots. On average, 300 forest plants have been handed over to the farmers.
“The aim is that each producer creates a welcoming landscape on their farm, with different species, both flora and fauna, in addition to cocoa and fruit, to reduce the exploitation of the ecosystem. The pruning of the trees generates inputs that nourish the soil, and reduces the need to use chemical products to increase production, thereby preserving the forest.” Helsin Farro, Production Area Manager, APROCAM
APROCAM’s goal is to make sure that all of its member adopt agroforestry systems on their farms and diversify their production. The central nursery at APROCAM's headquarters produces 7,000 cocoa and timber tree seedlings per year, which also provides a strategic link to the market promoted by the project.
"The seedlings are used for the renovation and rehabilitation of old, unproductive cocoa farms and for grafting with higher-yielding, better-quality material selected together with the Italian company ICAM s.p.a., a client of the cooperative."Teófilo Beingolea, project coordinator, Rikolto
Many of the cooperative’s members are applying agroforestry systems with the future of cocoa and the land they will be leaving to their children in mind. This is also the story of member Edmundo Llanos, 60, who joined APROCAM in 2008. On his Santa Rosa farm, located in the Tomaque sector, near Bagua, he grows bananas and indigenous cacao, which is used to regenerate the soil.
"Our native cocoa is the indigenous cocoa of Amazonas. This is the heritage we must leave to our children and grandchildren (...) There are farmers who want to grow cocoa quickly and plant other varieties, but things can also go wrong very quickly. With indigenous cocoa, you have to invest time in planting, fertilising and pruning, but the plant responds by maintaining its improved quality". Edmundo Llanos, member of APROCAM
Native cocoa is a Peruvian designation of origin for a type of cocoa that is grown in the provinces of Utcubamba and Bagua in the Amazon region and is known as Cacao Amazonas Peru. "It is the only denomination of origin for cocoa in Peru, and APROCAM is the only organisation that has this denomination, and it is important to highlight this," says Luis Mendoza, manager of Appcacao. "Today, APROCAM is the only organisation of its kind that exports directly to the international market," adds Teófilo Beingolea. The denomination of origin is at the service of producers: a regulatory council has been created for its management and control, and it can be used for the improvement of its positioning on the market.
From 2020 to 2022, the Cacao Noramazónico Sostenible Project was included in the Swiss Cooperation SECO's SeCompetitivo Programme, facilitated by Helvetas. In the regions of San Martín, Amazonas, Piura and Tumbes, the project has reached 2,385 small cocoa producers who are members of farmer cooperatives. These include the organisations APROCAM (Amazonas) and ASPROC (San Martín), with which Rikolto has been working as part of the project.
Do you want to know more about our work in Peru? Contact our colleague Teófilo Beingolea, Cocoa and Coffee programme coordinator in Peru