Carlos Sierra and family
Nestled in the high jungles of northeastern Peru, Tocache is a province of San Martín, Peru’s most important cocoa producing region. The region wasn’t always famous for its chocolate, though. In the 1980s and ‘90s, Tocache was known for its coca production (from which cocaine is extracted); drug trafficking and violence were the norms. In the early 2000s, the Peruvian government successfully carried out cocaine eradication efforts, replacing coca plants with cocoa trees. Unfamiliar with cocoa production, farmers in the region lacked the knowledge necessary to thrive in the market. Luckily, farmer Carlos Sierra—whose parents were farmers and taught him to work with “Paccha Mama” (Mother Earth)—had a few ideas.
During the government’s coca eradication campaign, Carlos and his family took up cocoa farming on their land. The Sierra’s saw farmers struggling to achieve yields needed to sustain their livelihoods, so they began experimenting. Through much trial and error, they developed a unique pruning technique. The result: cocoa tree productivity five times higher than the local average.
Now known as the Synchronized Fertilization and Pruning Technique (or técnicas de abonamiento y poda sincronizada (“TAPS”), in Spanish), Sierra’s pruning technique consists of three phases: First he prunes to lower height (trimming the top of the tree). Next, he prunes to open crown (trimming underneath of the tree). Finally, he prunes to open rows (trimming between trees). When the technique was first developed, other farmers in the region took notice, but many were unable to properly replicate the method. With the help of TechnoServe, an agricultural non-profit, Sierra documented best practices and spread his innovation across Peru. Now, more than 21,000 farmers have adopted the technique.
Learn more about this farmer innovation on Technoserve’s site.
Using Sierra’s technique, farmers have seen their cocoa yields grow tremendously; on average, farmers’ yields are 53 percent higher when they use the TAPS technique. Higher yields means higher income, an average of 85 percent higher per farmer annually to be exact. And the positive impact doesn’t stop there: Sierra attributes the significant social improvements and recent good fortune in Tocache to the community’s success in cocoa farming. “Thanks to cocoa my town has peace and prosperity.”