The transition was a rocky road but finally they can see the light at the end of the tunnel after former coca growers have replaced the cultivation of one plant with another: cocoa.
“Now I have a safe work. No longer do I have to hide. My four children were also on the verge of becoming coca growers. Sure, I made a lot of money selling coca leafs, but that was fictitious. It didn’t last very long and we still ended up as poor men. The cocoa has given me my life and tranquillity back. Now that the gringos have arrived is even more reason to continue. We have the best cocoa in the world”.
Those were the moving words of Wilson Saavedra, one of 436 ex-coca growers who now comprise of the Agrarian Cocoa Cooperative (Acopagro) after signing an agreement to sell their production to the world’s leading manufacturer of high-quality cocoa, Swiss-based company ‘Barry Callebaut‘.
To reach this sweet triumph wasn’t easy. They had to spend almost one decade of sacrifices and fights until their cocoa was recognized as a pure organic product. Gonzalo Ríos Núñez, manager of Acopagro, indicated that the first sale of more than 500 tons of cocoa will benefit the producers from the valleys of Juanjui and Pachiza. They will receive 4.60 Nuevo Soles per kilo, as opposed to rice or maize for which they received less than one Sol.
Willy Geeraerts is one of the best professional chocolate tasters of the world. His severe frown and notorious silence scares everyone. He arrived in Juanjui days ago after being attracted by the now famous cocoa quality. After a smell, a bite, and a scrutinizing check of the seeds, his grim face changed and the flavor of the cocoa loosened him up immediately: “It is the best organic cocoa that I have tasted during the last ten years. Approved! Barry Callebau buys everything. The product is excellent”.
After remaining mostly quiet until his verdict, his words sweetened the life of hundreds of producers. Soon, the cocoa of Juanjui will be transformed into chocolate that will leave an international mark. And it has the label of a very “unique origin”.
Details of the agreement
Gonzalo Ríos Núñez, manager of Acopagro, confirmed that the Swiss company will buy cocoa for special prices during the next five years which will allow the farmers to amass sowings of their organic product.