Jacob Flores is a member of Tocache Cooperative, an organization with more than 600 members in Tocache, a small town on the northeast of the Peruvian Amazon. It started 22 years ago with very few members. “Back in those years there were very few hectares of cacao planted; cacao was not widely known,” Flores said.
USAID’s Alternative Development Program (PDA) came to Tocache to promote cacao, and the change began. But, the road to change was not easy. At first, some members of the community were reluctant and kept growing coca for cocaine production. But, witnessing the success that cacao brought to those who did change their coca for a licit crop, they decided to join PDA.
PDA introduced farmer field schools to teach crop management, but it provided Tocache with more than that.
“Thanks to PDA we have a stable economy and our kids have more possibilities to study because cacao production is profitable. Thanks to PDA, Tocache Province has prospered significantly. If you go (to Tocache) today, you will feel peace in the air, everybody smiles,” Flores said.
The cooperative now has a diversified portfolio, including cacao, coffee, and oil palm. Moreover, PDA has trained farmers to run their cooperatives as successful businesses.
“PDA gave us the first push so that we could start producing our licit crops, earn a stable income, and improve our quality of life. Right, now we are no longer thinking about selling our cacao nut as is, we are now thinking like businessmen,” he said.
The cooperative would like to establish its own chocolate processing plant. “We are looking forward to the day when we will be exporting our own brand of chocolate; we are working toward that goal,” Flores said.
When asked about the future and whether he would go back to cocaine business, he said, “Thanks to PDA we have changed, we have a different mentality now. We would never go back to (growing) coca, because we already know it only brings misery to our community. That is no longer an option; you earned money fast and spent it fast, too. That is why we are now thinking about processing our cacao and giving it that extra value added so to make our business more profitable.”