"A Very Sad Time."Everything changed in 1990.
For as long as anyone could remember, the people of San Juan de Cheni—a community of roughly 44 families mostly belonging to the Asháninka indigenous group—had grown and consumed cocoa peacefully on the eastern slope of the Andes in Peru.
And then, Shining Path rebels began terrorizing the community.
“The time of the terrorism was very sad, very sad," says Martha Maria Cipriani, a farmer in San Juan who also served as the village's leader while they grappled with the Shining Path. "Several of our neighbors were killed. I escaped three times when the terrorists came for me by running into the woods."
Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Shining Path maintained a strong presence in rural Peru, including the region around San Juan. Their forces sent many families on the run, and they menaced—and sometimes murdered—those who remained.
“We had to sleep in our cacaotales [cocoa plots] for fear that the terrorists would come for us, or set fire to our houses at night," Cipriani says. "For two years, we slept in the hills."
But the people of San Juan were resilient. They became one of the first Asháninka groups to form a ronda, or citizen’s patrol, to fight back. By overcoming their fear, the ronda members were able to keep San Juan together until peace was restored.
Even then, the community was confronted with further challenges—including a fungal disease that attacked their cocoa—that prevented them from getting back on their feet.
The Rainforest Alliance is proud to say that, in recent years, we've played a part in helping San Juan fully recover. By getting their cocoa farms certified, the community is forging a future that's better for its people and better for the Andes.
"We are living better," Cipriani says. "Since we got certified, we are getting a better price for our cocoa and we are producing more."