During this summer I have been working with Peru Cocoa Alliance as a Uniterra volunteer, where my role is Communication and Dissemination Officer for financial education. I am working to create a communications kit that includes information outlining the roles of the individuals, groups and organizations that play a role in the financial education of cocoa farmers, what methods are already being used, which have been more successful, and how the lessons can be improved in the future.
Peru Cocoa Alliance (PCA) is a public-private partnership that is focused on bringing together Cocoa farmers from the districts of Ucayali, Huánuco and San Martin in the Amazon region, buyers, investors and technology providers in order to make Peru a market leader in the fine-flavour chocolate industry. Their mission is to increase investment in these regions in the productive chains of cocoa, plantain and wood in order to improve the income of 20,000 farmer families. In order to accomplish this, the PCA program has been divided into two stages, one of which has already been completed, and the second one was started last year. In this second stage, one of the main roles is to increase the productivity of the Cocoa farmers and to encourage a more active participation with the different financial services. The reason for this is because currently financial culture is really low in Peru, and the lack of bank accounts, saving plans, investment and low credit activity makes farmers vulnerable to theft and limits their ability to spend more money on their crops and their proper care.
At the beginning of my placement, I got my orientation with ACP at their main office in Lima. Here I was able to learn the dynamics of the organization and learn a little about cocoa. Personally, before coming here I had very basic knowledge of the cocoa industry and what role Peru wanted to play in this market. It was really interesting and fun to learn about this topic, the different kinds of cocoa that can be produced in Peru, and how the different regions offer unique characteristics to the quality and flavour of the cocoa. In the first few weeks I also got the opportunity to participate in the “Salon de Cacao y Chocolate – Peru” (Hall of Cocoa and Chocolate). This was the 8th Hall of Cocoa and Chocolate to take place, and its purpose is to integrate national and international economic agents of the cocoa production chain. I was able to hear the challenges Peru has faced in the cocoa market, but also the ones that have also been overcome, how much the industry has progressed and the goals they have set for the future. It was an amazing experience where I was able to see first hand how many people are actually involved in this process and how much love there is for cocoa.
After a couple of weeks I moved to my official location of placement; Pucallpa, Peru. This city is in the Ucayali department, one of the three main locations where the PCA is located. By then, I had a good understanding of the plan PCA had created in order to cover the topic of financial education and the other actors who were also involved in this subject. In order to start developing the communication kit, I needed to do further research to learn more about the success of the products currently used, and what were the ways in which they could be improved. I travelled to a couple smaller towns to meet with different financial institutions, ranging from banks, micro financial entities and several cooperatives that work with PCA. This gave me the opportunity to go out in the field and get to know producers, community leaders and a few technology provider representatives. I was able to sit in a few meetings with cooperative members where they explained the process of getting producers to join the cooperative, sell their cocoa, how the cooperative looks for business internationally and the type of support they provide for the producers in return. The high levels of cooperation and solidarity that I witnessed between the producers, community leaders and cooperative members showed me how much they trust and rely on each other. They have built strong relationships not only for labour but also for social and personal support.
Being a part of this process has shown me that trying to communicate the topic of financial education goes beyond learning how to manage money better. It deals with building relationships, creating trust, being forward and being honest. Up until now, I have seen that people are capable of accomplishing amazing things, given the opportunity and the right tools, nothing can stop a person from achieving what they want; for this reason, I am glad I have been able to be a part of this change.
Alejandra is a student in the 5th Cohort of the Master’s of Development Practice Program. Her research interests are in poverty alleviation and livelihood, social and political development, local economic development, conflict resolution and refugee rights.