Tocache, Peru: from coca to chocolate

Paolo Lopez for Caretas

Once a center of coca cultivation, Tocache is betting on a sweeter crop these days.

Tocache, Peru: from coca to chocolate

The Huallaga River near Tocache (Paolo Lopez)

North of Tingo Maria, along the shores of the great Huallaga River, sits the town of Tocache. Known as one of the centers of coca cultivation, its production is now shifting to chocolate. This is one of the towns where Technoserve, an organization that recruits professionals from around the world to provide support for new crops, et cetera, in alliance with USAID, has committed to pushing cacao as an alternative to coca.

Leaving coca behind, families that used to be involved in its cultivation in the 80s are now wholly devoted to growing cacao.
Doña Sonya Flores Hernandez has seven hectares planted with cacao, and together with her family, her holdings are sixty hectares. When the area’s coca was sold to Peru, Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador, she was just a girl and she would go to the pools where the leaves were steeped to see the process. Between 1984 and 1987, the situation was critical. She remembers entering her plots and seeing people decapitated or women with pejorative placards. It was a period in which the bars, prostitution and violence dominated the area.

Meanwhile, the family of Edil Sandoval Arevalo has worked with cacao for fifteen years. This crop, he explains, has shown his whole family its income potential, and he refers to it as a “more healthy crop.” With three sons in the family business, and annual crops that reach up to 4,000 kilograms per hectare, Sandoval is the owner of seven hectares, and 40 in conjunction with his family.

Sadith Sierra Rivera, his wife, remembers how the family had to go through various ordeals during the time when they cultivated coca and when violence from narcotraffickers and subversives reigned.

Both families connected with Technoserve, which has generated self-employment, breaking the cycle of poverty that brought the coca leaf to this area, and the organization also provides technical assistance in creating businesses. One of its principal development methods aims at small businesspeople who follow the commercial chain with the production of chocolates, cacao paste, liquors and some brands like Exotic, Naticos, Dolly, Chocolates Orquidea, among others.

Currently, the cacao-producing families are working together to put out greater volumes to offer to their foreign clients and improve their quality of life and relations with the community.