Tree planting on previous papaya plantation (Image by Sarah Lupberger)

As part of their participation in the Initiative 20×20 Annual Meeting in Lima, Peru in late April, David Antonioli (Verra CEO) and Sarah Lupberger (Manager, Sustainable Landscapes) visited the Tambopata REDD+ project in the Peruvian Amazon designed to reduce deforestation and degradation in and around the Tambopata National Reserve and Bahuaja-Sonene National Park. The project, which is financed by Althelia and implemented by the Asociación para la Investigación y Desarrollo Integral (AIDER) in collaboration with the Cooperativa de Servicios Múltiples Tambopata Candamo (COOPASER) on behalf of the Peruvian National Service for Natural Protected Areas (SERNANP) is both protecting virgin forest and helping farmers to sustainably produce cacao as a means to reduce pressure on the forest.

The project is a great story of how forest conservation and restoration can work together. Funding from the sale of VCUs generated by preventing deforestation has not only led to stepped up efforts to protect the forest, but also enabled the project developers to help local farmers working in the buffer zone of the reserve and park to produce cacao more sustainably. There are three key components to the restoration activities:

  • Technical assistance and training. AIDER provides technical assistance and training to farmers so that they can farm cacao sustainably by implementing agro-forestry systems whereby cacao trees and other mixed species are planted together to generate secondary forest and produce shade cacao, which is of higher quality. The trip included visits to several farms, one of which had recently been a papaya plantation and has begun reforestation efforts, and where 40 trees were planted as a tribute to the visit and the overall effort. Another one of the farms visited used to have extensive pasture, and sound reforestation efforts have created a rich secondary forest.
  • Cacao processing plant. Project developers invested in a cacao processing plant where the cacao is fermented, dried and tested before being sold in large volumes. The processing plant enables farmers, through the cooperative, to retain a larger share of the value added to their cacao.
  • Sustainable cacao and no deforestation. In exchange for the technical support they receive and the benefits they derive from being part of the cooperative and having access to the processing plant, farmers agree to dedicate at least three hectares of production to sustainable cacao and to not cut down any virgin forest on their property.
Image by Sarah Lupberger
Dried cacao, processing facility in background (Image by Sarah Lupberger)

The results have been impressive. Whereas farmers were at first reluctant to join and there was quite a bit of promotional work that needed to be done, there is now a steady stream of farmers wanting to join the initiative. Currently there are 342 farmers participating in the project. Production of sustainable cacao is also set to increase. Whereas in 2018 they expect to produce about 21 tons of dried cacao, the plant has a capacity for processing up to 200 tons of dried cacao per year — there is plenty of room to grow.

Secondary forest with cacao trees – previously cattle pasture

The social and environmental impacts have also been impressive. Participating farmers have increased their income and can now better provide for their families. In addition, participating farmers are committed to preserving the forest and are regenerating large swaths of land into rich secondary forests.

A Spanish-language video taken by the local TV station can be accessed here. We hope to have a subtitled version in English soon.