Coffee instead of coca: Peruvian farmers reap the fruits of their labour



In Peru's former coca-growing areas, drug traffickers were highly influential in the 1980s and 1990s. The local population had no other means of earning a living except by growing coca, the raw material used in the manufacture of cocaine. Consequently, farmers were highly vulnerable to organized criminal groups who bought those illicit crops and promised wealth to those who cultivated them.

Through a UNODC alternative development programme, farmers received training on how to cultivate high-quality coffee in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way, avoiding the use of chemicals. Farmers realized that they can pursue income-generating activities that are legal and sustainable, and that those alternatives mean independence and security for themselves and their families. They have gladly abandoned coca farming and concentrated on cultivating coffee, using the new techniques and benefiting from enhanced market access and fair trade conditions.

UNODC has strengthened local farmer cooperatives by offering training in cooperatives management. When the UNODC project phased out, farmers continued to work together in cooperatives, using improved techniques and a newly introduced joint property model.

As a result of the hard work, cooperatives have become successful coffee producers and have obtained recognition certificates by coffee organizations, such as the organic coffee certificate and the fair trade certificate. Cooperatives have turned into enterprises that are owned by the farmers, who become shareholders and can negotiate directly with buyers from all over the world.

Wilson has been a member of one such farmers' cooperative, Central de Cooperativas Agrarias Cafetaleras (CECOVASA), since its foundation in 1970. CECOVASA has a total of 4,864 members; it also runs an organic coffee programme of which Wilson is a partner. During the twenty-second Specialty Coffee Association of America Fair last year, CECOVASA coffee won "World's Best Coffee" title.

"I do not have to hide anymore," he says, "I am proud of what I produce. I pay taxes and I can now provide my whole family with health insurance. Before, I had to hide from the police and I did not feel proud at all, I felt ashamed, because I knew I was doing something illegal."

Wilson explains that after he started earning from coffee farming activities, he and his wife were able to purchase new fields. They have two sons and two daughters and now own four hectares of coffee fields. "When my children turn eighteen, each one will have a hectare of his own", he adds with a smile.

In 2013, 13 Peruvian farmer cooperatives generated income of over $150 million from over 50 different types of alternative development products including coffee, cacao, palm oil and palm hearts. Farmers that used to be dependent on coca bush cultivation are now benefiting from these sustainable, licit income generating activities.