Life gets easier if you work together. 32 small farmers in eastern Peru (near Huánuco) realised that half a century ago and in 1964 they formed the Cooperativa Naranjillo. Today almost 5,000 farmers are members of the cooperative, most of them growing cocoa and coffee. The headquarters are based in Tingo Maria, but the farms are spread over three provinces, Huanuco, San Martin and Ucayali.

At the time of harvest the color of the ripe cocoa fruit ranges from greenish yellow to red-violet

It’s a mountainous region, most of it covered with dense vegetation and jungle-like forests. Neither growing cocoa nor coffee is easy, but what made farmers’ lives really miserable were the ‘coyotes’, the middlemen who paid the farmers a pittance for their produce while selling it on for a substantial profit. As the cooperative grew the farmers were able to cut out the middlemen. But with world market prices at times dropping below cost of production a good harvest of cocoa and coffee was still no guarantee that the family would eat.

There is a main harvest of cocoa fruits in a year and a lower intermediate harvest

It was in times like these when many farmers in Peru and other South American countries started planting the one crop that guaranteed them an income: coca, the leaves of which are used to produce cocaine. It is hard to imagine what life must have been like for the farmers, not just in Huanuco, San Martin and Ucayali, but across Peru – they were literally caught in the crossfire between drug dealers, some of them members of the Shining Path, the infamous Maoist insurgence group known for its brutality and the often similarly brutal military and paramilitary forces.

Most of the farmers growing cocoa and coffee

Since the arrest of the Shining Path leader in 1992 life in rural areas may have become more secure, but the world markets for cocoa and coffee remained volatile – until the Fairtrade schemes for coffee and then for cocoa started to make a difference. Under Fairtrade farmers receive a better price for their produce and in addition a Fairtrade premium. ‘Many farmers have been able to get into adult education, some are taking university degrees’ says Rolando Herrera, the president of Naranjillo. And ‘we’ve been able to convince many farmers in our region to plant cocoa for the chocolate we produce instead of coca’.

Cocoa butter

Naranjillo is a large cooperative and by now there are several committees which not only deal with production and sales but also with the promotion of health, education and socio-economic development. Microcredit schemes enable in particular women to set up small business or independent farming projects. Training schemes help farmers to improve yields and the quality of their produce and to learn about organic agriculture – the majority of Naranjillo members are now certified organic, the cooperative pays for the certification. There is a seed-bank to increase biodiversity and the Fairtrade money has helped to pay for processing facilities: the farmers don’t just sell their cocoa beans, they add value by producing cocoa powder, chocolate and the cocoa butter that we use for the Fair Squared lipbalm range.

Photo credit: Naranjillo Ltd.