– a private company that works organically and fair
from Gregor Sieböck
In 2010, the Swiss cocoa expert Stefan Block and the Peruvian Isreal Pisepsky founded the company SUMAQAO to buy cocoa in the Tocache region close to the blue mountains at the edge of the Amazon lowland.
Until 2006, mainly coca has been cultivated in this region, but with the support from the United Nations, the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and USAID, a switch to palm oil plantations, coffee and cocoa was achieved. The tropical region is very rich and yields good harvests to the farmers. There are merchants everywhere in the city of Tocache who offer coffee or cocoa beans and only once in a while can coca leaves still be spotted spread out to dry in the meadows. These coca leaves will not be processed into cocaine, however; the plant has been considered a sacred plant for centuries, especially since the time of the Incas. The coca leaves are used for spiritual ceremonies to bestow honour and gratitude on Pachamama - Mother Earth. In the highlands, delicious coca tea is brewed that prevents altitude sickness in quite a wondrous way and also provides mental clarity. My travel companion Michael and I could experience this ourselves on our journey - one day we drove in as little as five hours from 670 metres above sea level up to the Andean highlands at 4,500 metres. When we got out of the taxi, we felt dizzy, it was hard to breathe and an icy wind blew into our faces; we also had to deal with the change from the hot tropics to the cold highlands. After two cups of coca tea I took my camera and immediately started working again; I took great pictures, conducted interviews, ran up hills - the magic of the coca leaves supported me. The international community will thus never manage to eliminate coca from Peru because the plant is closely interwoven with the culture and with the geography of the country and it is part of the identity of the Peruvian people.
SUMAQAO is a private company that not only buys and resells cocoa beans, it also works closely with the farmers. Minka Tarpuy is the social branch of the company and takes on similar jobs as a cooperative: the farmers receive support when changing to organic cultivation, Sumaqao's employees help them to increase the productivity of their plots and to be more successful economically.
Sumaqao employs 20 staff members and works with 2,000 farmers from all over the country, whereby the draw area of the company stretches from Piura at the border to Ecuador (where the famous Criollo cocoa beans for Zotter come from), to the Amazon lowland near Pucallpa, to Satipo and to the Ayacucho region close to the heart of the Inca empire. SUMAQAO trades a total of 6,000 tons of cocoa beans per year and obtains 2,500 tons from the 300 cocoa farmers in the Tocache region. Of these, about half are cultivated organically; the rest is, for example, UTZ certified. UTZ allows the use of chemicals for the cultivation, but promotes the social development of the farmers, makes sure that the children attend school, that the hygienic standards are upheld during the operation and that there is a certain protection of the natural flora and fauna - which, however, goes only as far as the use of chemical sprays and fertilisers allows. Nevertheless, UTZ is a step in the direction of organic cultivation for some farmers and leads to making the farmers familiar with the issue. Furthermore, there is also a certification of the "Rainforest Alliance", which also doesn't require organic cultivation but primarily makes sure that the farmers protect the neighbouring rain forests and offer a certain habitat to the wild animals on their plots.
A total of 10,000 tons of cocoa per year is harvested in the region around Tocache and 30 % of the harvest comes from organic cultivation. The trend of organic cultivation is on the rise primarily because there is a growing demand for organic cocoa beans. With regard to social aspects, child labour is practically non-existent in cocoa cultivation. The children go to school and don't work like slaves at the cocoa plantation of the large landowners, as they do in Africa. Furthermore, the plots in Peru are usually small and owned by the farmers, who can farm an area of one or two hectares themselves and then sell the cocoa beans for their own account.
Michael and I visited Norman, the cocoa farmer, and he showed us his two-hectares large cocoa garden. He has planted cocoa of the CCN 51 variety and the fruit gleam in beautiful purple and yellow colours amidst the juicy, green leaves. Thanks to the good upkeep of his cocoa trees and the use of organic fertilisers, he has a yield of slightly more than two tons of cocoa beans per hectare. Including the premium for organic cultivation, he receives 7.40 soles per kilogram of dried cocoa. Norman is visibly proud of his work and he is happy to show us his cocoa trees. He does his work with joy and gratitude, just like Richard from SUMAQAO, who spends hours on his motorbike to chauffeur us from one cocoa plot to the next and to the warehouses. SUMAQAO... the somewhat different company in the cocoa business - the spirit can definitely be felt!