“Our youth, my own seven year-old students, sold drugs,” Charito says. “Teenage girls worked in brothels…” Organizing a small group to accept the alternative on offer, she replaced her own coca with cacao with the help of farmer field schools, a hands-on approach that teaches crop management best practices. She then set about convincing other members of her community to do the same.
Charito became one of the most prominent local spokespeople for alternatives to coca, additionally involving herself in gender equality initiatives and public awareness campaigns focused on domestic violence and prevention measures.
Eight years later, she and her husband continue to plant cacao, but have taken the movement far beyond the farm. In collaboration with 12 other women, Charito created Mishki Cacao – which translates to “sweet cocoa” in Quechua, their indigenous tongue - to produce artisanal chocolate.
Mishki Cacao is the first women-owned business in Chazuta and has received technical support in financial management, business start-up training and investment in equipment and training in chocolate manufacturing and packaging from the Peru Alternative Development Program. With USAID’s investment, Mishki was promoted at high-profile events, which has improved its product line and has broadened the customer base to national and international arenas. With a new sanitary certification in place and a growing demand for their products, this group continues to work hard to expand its business with nearly 3,190 hectares of high-quality cacao.
Chemonics works closely with producers and local partners to promote community organization and has clearly and convincingly demonstrated that, done right, alternative development can eliminate coca from a large region ridden with violence and insecurity from the drug trade. Because of programs like this, community leaders such as Charito and her husband have been empowered to sow their own lasting seeds of change.
This third iteration of the USAID/Peru Alternative Development Program (PDA III)
is the last phase of a continuous, decade-long USAID alternative development program in the North Central Peruvian jungle that has been so successful that it is referred to as the "Model of San Martín.” Over the period of implementation, participating communities have seen the poverty rate drop from 70 percent to 31 percent along with significant reductions in violent crime. The area can now boast 7 percent annual regional growth and the largest production of cacao, making it the top performing region in Peru.