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From war to sustainable chocolate: Indigenous Amazonian cocoa producers awarded prestigious United Nations 'Equator Prize'

05 June 2019

A cooperative of indigenous cocoa producers based in a remote part of the Peruvian rainforest has won the biennial UN Development Programme’s Equator Prize in recognition of its "outstanding community effort to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity."

Kemito Ene ("cocoa from the Ene River") was formed in 2010, with support from the Rainforest Foundation UK, (RFUK) and the Asháninka indigenous association Central Asháninka del Río Ene, (CARE), to help improve the livelihoods of indigenous Asháninka families, who largely depend on the rainforest for survival. RFUK has worked with the Asháninka since 1998, as Peru was emerging from an era of violent conflict with the Shining Path terrorist group, during which thousands of Asháninka perished or were forced to flee their homes.

Cocoa production now represents an important source of income for the Asháninka, helping pay for medicines, school materials and other necessities. Most importantly, the cacao can be grown under the tree canopy, a feature that not only prevents deforestation but also results in better flavour and more diverse crops.

Since 2010, thanks to the efforts of Kemito Ene and CARE, cocoa production has increased from 1.5 tonnes to 90 tonnes. Through Kemito Ene’s work, the quality of cocoa has attracted the attention of international buyers, like organic ethical chocolate-maker Loving Earth, who signed a partnership with the Asháninka-run cooperative three years ago, bringing its cocoa products to shops in the UK, Europe and US for the first time.

RFUK's Amazon Programme Senior Coordinator, Aldo Soto, said, "We are glad to have supported the Asháninka people to gain legal rights to their land, to defend these lands and forest and then to develop sustainable livelihoods through Kemito Ene. We are delighted that its work has been internationally recognised for its contribution to reducing poverty whilst also helping to conserve one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Today, Kemito Ene is a model of sustainable development for rainforest communities creating positive impact both to the people and the planet”.

Members of Kemito Ene will travel to New York in September to receive the award at a UN gala event that coincides with the UN General Assembly.

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