As part of the web design process, Yellow Seed colleagues Alexis and Shea spent nine weeks traveling within different regions of Peru in search of delicious cacao and farmer groups in need of market access. While they were there, Alexis and Shea connected with farmers and cooperatives, conducted interviews with producers and local NGOs, and assessed quality on the processing and farm level.
Several of the relationships formed this past summer continue to inform our model and have been an integral part of the website design. From questions of volume and traceability, to the feasibility of collecting and hosting certain data, the input from our Peru relationships has been invaluable. Three particular Peruvian cooperatives, who have been challenged to adapt to unique contexts of scale, geography, and culture, will be among the first Yellow Seed profiles to be hosted and highlighted on the site this year.
These Yellow Seed curated origins share a common trait: they have reached a level of scale and quality necessary for direct market connections, but lack access to avenues through which those connections can be formed. Yellow Seed believes that through sharing stories, providing a space for industry collaboration, and bridging the communicative gap between new origins and producers, avenues for building connections will begin to take shape.
Allima Cacao is one of the first origin profiles Yellow Seed will host on the registry in the near future. A relatively young cooperative operating out of Chazuta, Peru, they are one of the many cacao-producing associations born out of a mid 2000’s counter drug trafficking initiatives. Positioned along the rivers in between San Martin’s Cordillera Escalera and Cordillera Azul National Parks, the cooperative and its agroforestry practicing communities serve as a crucial environmental conservation buffer to more harmful development. With 90% of its 223 families belonging to indigenous Chazuta groups, Allima’s members also help represent and uphold a unique cultural patrimony. Their town is home to some of Peru’s most well preserved artisan pottery and funerary traditions.
Throughout our visits with Allima Cacao’s young entrepreneurial manager, Carlos Angulo González, we were able to observe some of their successes and challenges. Marcelino Xumba Cenepo, one of Allima’s farmers, has helped other members with advanced techniques such as separating cacao varieties through tree identification and establishing sustainable agroforestry practices.
Although 2014 is Allima’s first year having buyers for some of their conventional cacao, their true hope is to expand into niche markets with their finer organic aromatic and criollo varieties. Their main current challenge is ramping up enough demand to fully make use of their impressive infrastructure. With a robust fermentation system (that accommodates for different certifications), drying and storage facilities, as well as several remote processing centers for those members more than eight hours up river, the farmers are excited to get the word out about their quality cacao.
ASPROC-NBT, another association-turned-cooperative in San Martín, is a unique regional case. As one of the sole cooperatives in a town dominated by transnational sourcing companies, ASPROC-NBT works tirelessly to stay competitive. Due to their distance from assistive counter-trafficking alternative crop programs, they have distinguished themselves with initiatives such as creating their own finished products for local markets, partnering with regional universities to train and employ young students in cacao agronomy and processing, and creating thorough geo-traceable batch-tracking systems for their separately processed organic and non-organic certified beans.
This entrepreneurial drive has led to many of the farmers being able to send their children to school and later university. As aligned with the mission of Yellow Seed, ASPROC-NBT is just reaching the point where they have attained a certain level of scale, need markets, and would benefit immensely from direct connections to chocolate makers. The farmers eventually dream of perfecting and selling their own chocolate locally and even internationally. For now, however, maintaining and improving quality on the farm and at the processing center remains a main priority.
Last but certainly not least, we had the pleasure of meeting the team at Maranura Cooperative nestled in the Quillabamba region. Just a five hour drive through the Andes and misty cloud forest you arrive in the foothills of the Quillabamba region. Known primarily for its coffee production, the terrain is also ideal for planting cacao on its lower slopes. Founded in 1960, the Maranura coop is the region’s oldest, with 300 small-scale farming families. Large farms along steep, fertile hills allow coffee and cacao to grow together, contributing to the flavor and quality of beans grown in this region. Recently the farmers in the region have faced coffee rust, a disease that has wiped out a significant part of the coffee crops in the region. Cacao has been present in the regions for decades but just in the past seven years farmers have in turn begun to rely more heavily on their cacao production and have ramped up planting efforts as well as quality processing training for current and prospective farmers.
Under strong leadership from farmer and coop manager Ludgardo Pimentel, this group of farmers is entrepreneurial and dedicated to producing high quality cacao. Ludgardo’s plans encompass increasing the Cooperative’s domestic finished product distribution, a new marketing initiative, securing capital to finance smaller-scale export (through the government, Agrobank, and lenders), increasing regional membership, improving farmer premiums, and establishing niche markets with the Cusco region’s Amazonian cacao varietal: Chuncho. He and the committees have also successfully established micro-credit lines for themselves through the Coop, to follow up the constant process of improving quality on the farm.
During our visit, we were able to join a meeting between Maranura and an association of 100 farmers from Echarate, a nearby cacao-producing town. Through games, workshops, a forum session, and quality demonstrations, Ludgardo expounded on Cooperative values, Maranura’s vision, and what it means for all the farmers in the district.
Maranura also has a committed team of agronomists that work in the field with cooperative members to assist with crop husbandry and to help with quality efforts on the farm and processing levels. Since the Maranura Coop aggregates cacao from a large geographical area, satellite processing facilities have been set up to accommodate farmers and to address consistency and fermentation and drying issues.
We are very excited to be working hand in hand with these three coops and are looking forward to seeing the connections that were made during our Peru trip continue to blossom. Most importantly through the Yellow Seed site, these three cooperatives in particular will gain better access to a world of buyers and visibility in the market. We look forward to learning from these connections about how collaborative models function within the world of cacao to create heightened awareness about sourcing and relationship building.