"We've Always Grown Cocoa."In the late 1990s, the community of San Juan de Cheni finally began to move past the strife they had experienced during the Shining Path's ascendance. But a devastating fungal disease frustrated their efforts to start growing cocoa again.
And that's a big problem in a community that derives much of its identity from growing and consuming cocoa.
“We’ve always grown cocoa," says Abel Yaranga, a San Juan farmer. "It’s a native tree here. When I was a boy, my grandmother would toast the beans and serve them to me with cassava. That’s a flavor that I’ll never forget.”
Anxious to protect their heritage, the people of San Juan turned to sustainability to make their cocoa healthy. In 2006, Yaranga united 16 other farmers to form the Asociación de Productores Agropecuarios de San Juan Valle Cheni, or APROCHEN.
Initially formed so growers could collectively negotiate a better price with middlemen, the association's mission grew to include adopting more sustainable practices. Since 2010, the APROCHEN farms have been Rainforest Alliance Certified™.
Rainforest Alliance agronomist Ruben Santivañez has worked with APROCHEN to help them increase cocoa production and protect nature, including the nearby Cheni River and biodiversity such as jaguars and a variety of threatened bird species. But the benefits of working with the Rainforest Alliance have extended beyond conservation.
Through certification, the farmers of APROCHEN have more than doubled the price they receive for their cocoa. “What has happened here is that people understood that if we don’t work together we won’t make progress,” Abel says.
"With the Rainforest Alliance ... we’ve protected the environment and we’ve made improvements in the social area."
Other members of the community agree. “We’ve improved our treatment of the environment," says José Andrés Cipriani, a farmer who also serves as the village's headman. "Now we conserve the springs and streams on our farms by protecting the vegetation around them. We have reforested some areas. Before, people hunted, but now we are conserving the animals.”
Recently, APROCHEN's farmers have used grafting techniques to increase production and make their cocoa more resistant to fungal diseases. Now, fungal disease is just another bad, distant memory, and the Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa of APROCHEN is used to make Scharffen Berger's San Juan Limited Edition chocolate bar.
“With the Rainforest Alliance, we’ve made progress in three areas: we’ve increased production, we’ve protected the environment and we’ve made improvements in the social area," Yaranga says.