In the early 1990s, during the waning years of Peru’s bloody internal conflict, armed rebels from the Shining Path guerilla group terrorized the Andean village of San Juan de Cheni, making any semblance of normal life—such as properly tending to the village’s cocoa plots—impossible. Community members fought back, eventually restoring security, but by then new and urgent challenges confronted them: a fungal disease decimated cocoa production and predatory "middle men" paid low prices for what little healthy cocoa the land yielded.
In the hopes of negotiating better prices as a group, the community formed an association called APROCHEN (Asociación de Productores Agropecuarios de San Juan Valle Cheni), which achieved Rainforest Alliance certification in 2010. Since then, the farmers have more than doubled the prices they receive for their cocoa beans—which they have learned to cultivate using methods that not only control the fungus, but protect and restore Andean rainforests, streams, and rivers.
Meet some of the people behind this village’s remarkable renaissance:
"My mother gave me my cocoa trees. They are my inheritance. The truth is that as women we can do anything. I’m proud of all the things I’ve achieved. I’ve tried to comply with what the Rainforest Alliance says to give an example to the others that a woman can do it. Before, we sold our cocoa to any middleman who showed up, and they took advantage. Now that we sell directly to the exporter, and we are earning more money. My life is getting better, and my family’s life is getting better." -- APROCHEN secretary Eva Llanes.
"I’m very happy with the nursery and the training we’ve received about how to cultivate cocoa. It is good for all of us. It’s beautiful." -- Victor Jari.
“We had to sleep in our cacaotales (cocoa plots) for fear that the terrorists would come for us or set fire to our houses at night. We slept in the hills for two years. Then we organized the ronda (community police). We did more to fight the terrorists than the army. Now we are thinking about what we will leave for our children. Before, we used to fish in the river with nets every week and eat the little fish. But not anymore. Now we’re protecting them. Some people still fish, but with a hook and line." -- Martha María Cipriani.
"The first time we sold our cocoa together as an association, we got a price of 3.90 soles (US $1.33) per kilo. We then got Organic and Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM and improved the quality of our cocoa. In 2014, we sold our cocoa for 7.90 (US $2.69) soles per kilo." -- Abel Yaranga.
"Now that we’re earning more, our children hardly lack anything. We’ve improved our treatment of the environment. We conserve the springs and streams, and we have reforested some areas. Before, people hunted. But now we are protecting the animals. As the leader of the community, I maintain our customs, I speak our language, Ashaninka. We want to save our culture even as we develop." -- José Andrés Cipriani.