Forest Hero: Aurelia, Tambopata Cocoa Farmer

Original article here.

This is Aurelia llano Cruz. She is a cocoa farmer at our Tambopata-Bahuaja Biodiversity Reserve project in Peru. As one of the 195 farmers who are part of the cocoa cooperative she has received training and materials for growing cocoa in agroforestry systems

She has lived in the area, on the edge of the rainforest city Puerto Maldonado, for 35 years. This is the frontier of the Amazon, where the rainforest meets civilisation, where development threatens one of the most vibrant ecosystems on the planet. One driver of deforestation is land use pressures from poor migrants from other parts of Peru who have recently been moving to the lush rainforest region to seek their fortunes outside of the Andes Mountains, where a tough lifestyle and the lack of support from the government has pushed people away from their land. However, unfamiliar with the terrain, they often practice damaging agricultural practices such as slash and burn or clearing forest for cattle grazing.

Abril is one such migrant, originally from Cusco in the Andes, once the capital of the mighty Inca empire. She originally came to the area to start a family and grew rice, corn and plantains for family consumption while raising her eight children. She and her husband also raised cattle as a source of income.

Through support from the Tambopata forest carbon project, Abril has now converted the cattle pasture to agroforestry systems for growing fine, aromatic cocoa. This is a much more ecological process that is restoring the degraded cattle ranching lands and bringing wildlife back. It also does not require continuous conversion of forest to agricultural but at the same time also provides a better income for her and her family.

Technicians from our implementing partner on the ground, AIDER, taught Abril and her husband vital knowledge such as how to cultivate cocoa, which supporting crops would provide the best benefits, and technical skills like grafting plant varieties.

We interviewed Abril on her work as a farmer and her life on the land.

What does a normal day look like for you?

We get up early to, to take advantage of the cooler mornings. In the heat of the day we cannot work. Early, we can beat the job. During the day we cultivate our crops, and prune the cocoa plants.

Tell us about your family?

My husband and I live and work on the farm. We have eight grown children who all have their own families. Two of our sons come back to work the cocoa with us sometimes. They have seen the plant, which is beautiful. They have seen the fruit and they have been encouraged to come to the farm.

What is your relationship with the environment?

I like being in the country, to work on the land. We have made the pasture land come back to forest. I work to conserve the forest, not to kill but to conserve.

We gave Abril a taste of the first batch of chocolate made from her first harvest of cocoa.

I am proud and amazed it is from cocoa beans from my land. I am happy, it is delicious!

 

This is truly bean to bar!