Switching Coca to Cacao: Peru’s Alternative Development Program


PERU — The San Martin region of Peru is known for three things: its proximity to the Andes, the evergreen tropics of the Amazon rainforest and in more recent years, the 800 acres (374 hectares) of coca, a plant that is the source of cocaine. Peru is one of the largest producers of cocaine, second only to Colombia, and this production has led to increasing unrest and lack of security in the country. But because of a joint effort by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the situation is improving.

USAID works in conjunction with the Peruvian Commission for Development and Life Without Drugs (DEVIDA) to provide farmers with the appropriate technology and connections to global markets through Peru’s Alternative Development program. The UNODC reports that this has led to a 90 percent reduction in the production of coca in regions where farmers were taught sustainable cacao farming alongside the pitfalls of coca cultivation. The safety in such areas has greatly improved and more people have the chance to break out of the cycle of poverty. This is possible because of USAID’s investment of $110 million into the program over the past decade.

USAID Program Draws Partnerships to Further Encourage Cacao Cultivation

To improve the efficiency of chocolate cultivation in Peru, the USAID is working with TechnoServe, a nonprofit headquartered in Washington D.C., to provide essential tools for farmers so that they can increase their crop yields and meet global demands. These services include workshops about pruning timings and fertilizer applications and highlight faster ways to provide healthier food. Education programs are also conducted by Peru’s Alternative Development program so that farmers understand the nuances of trade and business better, which is promoting informed ownership and cultivation.

More importantly, the initiative has also attracted government investments. This is in light of farmers transitioning from producing illegal crops to those like chocolate that have a higher value and are a better source of income. The Peruvian government has expanded its funding for efforts against narcotics to $214 million in 2017 from $145 million in 2012. DEVIDA has also been given more authority since 2013 and works on a direct level as a liaison between the government and the people to promote new economic ventures.

Peru’s Alternative Development Program Leads to Success in Export Market

As a result of these improvements, Peru’s cacao exports have increased by more than 20 percent in the last year alone. Peru’s chocolate exports are currently worth $6.95 million, and this amount is projected to increase with the increasing quality of the products. Now, nearly half of the 150,000 acres that were previously used for farming coca in Peru are being utilized to grow chocolate.

Peru’s Alternative Development program is taking extra measures to ensure that Peruvian chocolate has a niche in the international market. Local researchers in San Martin at the Institute for Tropical Crops are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify new varieties of cacao beans. The program is studying 342 specimens, and their DNA is being isolated to better understand how each bean can cater to different tastes. The findings will then be used to brand Peruvian chocolate exports, much like French champagne or Brazilian coffee.

USAID’s investment and involvement in Peru’s Alternative Development program has improved the lives of many that were previously threatened by drug cartel violence and incomes below the poverty line. The education and provision of technology ensure that Peruvians can break out of the poverty trap through the legal and safe production of crops like chocolate. As more regions in the country are impacted by this program, the switch to cacao will aid Peru in creating a unique place for itself in the chocolate market.

– Sanjana Subramanian
Photo: Flickr


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