Thriving Indigenous-led cacao initiative in Peru is a win for both people and forests

December 19, 2023

In the heart of the Peruvian Amazon, the roaring success of the cooperative, Kemito Ene, stands as a shining example of how to uphold Indigenous culture and protect forests through sustainable agroforestry practices.

Founded 12 years ago, Kemito Ene emerged as a symbol of resilience for the Asháninka people in the Ene River basin. Representing 19 Indigenous communities, it embarked on a mission to transform the socioeconomic landscape of a region beset by armed conflict, drug cultivation, poverty and poor public services.

By focusing on sustainable land use practices, providing technical assistance on crop management techniques and disease prevention and by connecting producers with markets, it has emerged as a leading Indigenous cooperative.

And since 2021, it has steadily increased its ambition. In partnership with RFUK, it set ambitious goals to enhance its organisational structure and management capacity, increase the quality and yield of the cacao, and transform producer fields into agroforestry systems. This collaboration has achieved remarkable milestones, extending technical assistance to 200 families.

Real results for people

Through these efforts, Kemito Ene have been able to far exceed its production targets. At the project's outset, producers were harvesting an average of 549 kg/ha annually. By the project's conclusion, it is estimated this will be 740 kg/ha – a 74% increase. Crucially, the Asháninka have also found new markets for their high-quality product by participating in national and international chocolate fairs and business events in Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. These collective efforts have culminated in Kemito Ene achieving an astonishing 573% increase in sales for the 2024 harvest compared to the preceding four years.

And for forests…

Not only has the initiative brought real improvements to the Asháninka’s livelihoods, it has also demonstrated the climate benefits of well-managed agroforestry. Through the addition of innovative permanent measurement plots, it has been possible to measure the substantial carbon storage capacity of cocoa fields, which shows an average of 50 tonnes of carbon per hectare. Notably, 63% of this carbon was found in timber trees, 19% in cocoa trees, 12% in non-timber trees and 6% in fruit-bearing species used for self-consumption.

This is more than just a financial or an environmental triumph; it is testimony to the cooperative's ability to both overcome its challenges and to thrive and sustain a profound impact over the years. The Asháninka have also succeeded in shaping a collective vision for sustainably managing their lands covering hundreds of thousands of hectares, offering the opportunity for their families to generate self-sourced revenues, create jobs and reinvest in their communities in ways that align with their culture.

Championing these kinds of Indigenous enterprises will be crucial to rising to the dual challenge of meeting both developmental and environmental needs in tropical forests. The communities they represent, often historically marginalised and confronting persistent threats to their rights and lands, tenaciously strive for a life defined by justice, peace and acknowledgement as custodians of their forests.

As Kemito Ene looks to the future, its achievements position it as a potential model for scaling such interventions in other regions of the Peruvian Amazon and beyond.

Kemito Ene collage

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