Celebrating the Ashaninka: a look into our sustainable livelihoods project

September 9, 2022

Last month marked the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2022, globally recognising the contributions, achievements and vast knowledge of the indigenous populations of the world. To celebrate, we wanted to share what some of the communities we work with have been doing to secure sustainable livelihoods and protect their globally vital rainforest homes.

In Peru, we work with indigenous Asháninka families in the Ene River valley of the Amazon, to generate sustainable income through the production of environmentally-friendly crops like cocoa. Through the programme, we partner with the community’s own representative organisation CARE (Central Asháninka Río Ene) and their cocoa cooperative Kemito Ene, to empower the Asháninka people by building their capacities to manage their farming business efficiently, sustainably and autonomously.

We do this by supporting them across 4 main areas:

  • Developing their governance and business model
  • Creating a land use planning process
  • Improving their production of sustainable cocoa
  • Diversifying their income through agroforestry
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Developing Kemito Ene’s governance and business model

Currently an Association, Kemito is working towards becoming an official, legal Cooperative. To support their endeavours, RFUK has been working with them to create a solid governance structure through the building of transparent and coherent internal policies, as well as enhancing their working teams with training in human resources, administration, finance, partnerships, and leadership.

Already Kemito Ene has around 360 active members, but they want to expand to be able to support many more Ashaninka families and create a stronger Cooperative. By enhancing the technical capacities of the producers, Kemito is able to help their members achieve productivity and financial goals via their forest products, whilst preserving their cultural identity and improving the quality of life of each of the producing families.

By working as a Cooperative organisation, Kemito Ene has the perfect opportunity to boost sustainable community forest businesses, within their own commercial networks. Their long term vision is focused on developing a diverse rural economy, based on the many uses of communal forest resources (such as agroforestry, agriculture, conservation, timber, and non-timber products).

Diversification will not only provide equipment and commercial volume, but will guarantee better prices for individual producers and maximise the total volume of their produce. Our project supports Kemito Ene in creating the most attractive business proposition, with profitable value chains, promotion training, product diversification, and sustainable investment, among others.

RFUK’s support to Kemito Ene and Asháninka communities will ultimately mean they will be less dependent on external funding and technical support, by enhancing their economic power with better access to markets and finance.

Supporting CARE’s land use planning process

CARE is the indigenous organisation that legally and politically represents the Asháninka communities of the Ene River. Their work focuses on achieving the aspirations set out in their Political Agenda “Kametsa Asaike.” CARE and its Ashaninka communities have defined 8 horizons for their buen vivir (good living), which guide their efforts and initiatives. They are:

  1. Living as Asháninka, as an authentic person
  2. Eating what we know
  3. Living safely and calmly in our territory
  4. Living in peace without suffering from terrorism
  5. Living better, by producing enough to earn an income to be able to buy necessities
  6. Living healthily, both with our knowledge and by being well cared for by health services
  7. Living with an education that improves us and gives us power as Asháninka
  8. Living well with an Organisation that listens to us and defends our rights

Within its Political Agenda, CARE defines the course of action needed to enhance its representation, legitimacy and efficiency to support its communities. It also guides both family and communal economic activities so that they do not threaten the unity of the territory.

In this process, RFUK supports them in updating the demarcation and borders between communities, and between these and territories owned by non-Ashaninaka. This ensures that land management is maintained equally amongst the Asháninka, avoiding problems of inequity and promoting good coexistence.

We also support CARE in designing land use plans with five communities, to identify different areas of conservation, agroforestry and sustainable forestry production, restoration, and infrastructure, as well as promote sustainable and equitable zoning.

In addition, together with CARE and community representatives, we support a participatory rule agreement to generate a single land use plan in each community that is clear and well understood by all participants. We then support them in monitoring their land use plans with our real-time monitoring system ForestLink. ForestLink supports community surveillance groups to report to authorities illegal activities in their territories, such as encroachment and illegal logging, ensuring that families live safely and with ownership of their own land.

Supporting CARE’s land use planning process

Through Kemito Ene’s cocoa technicians, RFUK supports 200 Ashaninka producers to have individualised technical assistance 12 months a year. Producers receive training in composting and fertilisation, organic control of pests and diseases, pruning and shade management, selective harvesting, fermentation, drying and marketing.

Every month, the technicians carry out training workshops on these topics, and make individual visits to all the farms to reinforce knowledge and monitor the activities taken by the families. In cocoa production, Kemito Ene not only provides technical assistance to producers, but also represents an opportunity to receive a higher and stable price for their product, throughout the year. This allows the producers to have a sense of commitment to Kemito Ene, so that they decide to sell their product to the Association and not to other bidders. In addition, it allows the Kemito Ene brand to remain competitive in the Ene region, and the profits from its business model to be reinvested in the Ashaninka families and in improving their crops.

The main harvest occurs between the months of April and August. The fruit is cut by hand with a machete at the precise moment of ripening, and later it is taken home for the process of extracting the seeds. From there the fermentation takes place, where the temperature and time require special attention and care, since the quality of the cocoa will depend on this. As a last step, the seeds are dried for seven days. In this time, they lose moisture and the characteristic aroma of cocoa begins to emanate from the trays. Once ready, the seeds are then selected and stored for sale. Ashaninka women, who have a determining role in the economy of their families and the communities in general, carry out most of these activities.

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In order to monitor the cocoa production activity, RFUK trained Kemito Ene technicians in the use of the ForestLink real-time monitoring system, which in turn was adapted to the needs of the Association - now using it not only to monitor illegal activities, but also to track the silvicultural activities of cocoa production. In addition, the producers keep an updated field notebook where they indicate the activities they have carried out on their farms since the last visit of the technician, and where they keep a record of their harvest and sales. The rationale is that better agricultural practices - such as pruning, fertilisation, pest and disease management - and inputs like organic fertilisers, result in better yields and income. Increasing productivity also reduces the need for expanding new farms into forest areas, and boosts Kemito Ene’s capacities to aggregate volume and increase their offer to have more commercial partnerships. RFUK also supports Kemito Ene in the process of organic certification of its products, so that its sales are at better prices, and at fair prices, recognizing the quality of cocoa and the value of the Asháninka culture. Given the importance of cocoa sales for Ashaninka families’ cash income, this will have an immediate and important impact on their livelihoods.

Supporting CARE’s land use planning process

Together with Kemito Ene, RFUK supports indigenous producers to diversify their production through the installation of agroforestry plots - a climate-smart agriculture technique that contributes to climate change mitigation and farm resilience. Agroforestry has the potential to bring a wide range of ecological benefits, including increasing carbon stocks,controlling pests, providing a better habitat for biodiversity, and improving the long-term agricultural sustainability of the land. Cocoa-based agroforestry systems in the Ene communities maintain the production of cocoa while incorporating additional specie such as fruit trees, timber trees, and medicinal plants. We work with the producers to find the best spatial arrangements, silvicultural practices and species they decide to plant.

We also support the permanence of agroforestry technicians that brings technical assistance throughout the year to Kemito Ene’s members, improving the management of their plots. On a daily basis, these technicians visit each of the beneficiaries’ farms and provide knowledge in shade management, pruning, tree planting and commercialisation. RFUK also supports indigenous producers by providing the necessary tools and knowledge for installing tree nurseries to maintain their agroforestry plots. The nurseries are used to produce young cocoa and non-cocoa seedlings to replace old trees and establish new plantations. Our agroforestry approach is based on putting indigenous farmers at the front of the decision and planning processes. With them, Kemito Ene’s technicians work on the design and management of the nurseries.

A novel aspect of our work has been the monitoring of forest carbon in the indigenous agroforestry farms. RFUK trained the agroforestry technicians of Kemito Ene in the installation and measurement of plots in all the communities. Preliminarily, 327 trees have been identified and measured, with an average value of 64.4 tonnes of carbon per hectare. From these, 60% of the carbon stored comes from timber trees, 24% comes from non-timber forest products and 13% from cocoa trees.

By increasing sustainable practices in their production systems, and taking a participatory approach to supporting and designing governance, land use, and livelihood systems, RFUK and the Ashaninka ensure not only that the environment is being used and protected in the best way possible, but that it is being done in the way that those who have the most right to it choose for themselves. Thus ensuring the long-term sustainability of the land, and its people.

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