From the 1990s until 2003, the Peruvian town of Chazuta, in San Martín province, was ravaged by narco-terrorist violence. Cocaine drove the economy. Ayli Quinteros can still recall the fear and terror she felt every time one of the town’s young people was kidnapped or murdered. She farmed maize and yuca until cacao emerged as an alternative crop. “And it changed my life. Becoming a female chocolate producer changed everything,” she says with great emotion.
Cacao has given her peace, a tranquil life at last, and taught her many lessons. Today, for example, she welcomes tourists to her farm. She is a leader, the former head of the Mishky Cacao Association of Women Agricultural and Livestock Producers. The quality of her product has led Astrid Gutsche and Gastón Acurio to visit her, and she has photos to prove the attention lavished on her by these two giants of Peruvian cuisine. “I’m excited that they’ve noticed what we’re doing,” she says.
Cacao is a crop that “heals the heart.” And that’s not just a pretty phrase. Cacao’s most outstanding properties include its ability to alleviate fatigue, emaciation, fever, cardiac problems, anemia, and kidney and intestinal ailments. That’s how Ayli describes it, enamored of her flagship product.
Thanks to the regional government, the association has a cacao processing plant. She has received training in a number of areas, including marketing. Through this, she says, she has become a financially empowered woman.
Their cacao was featured at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris, where they took first place as female innovators.
“Cacao is my district’s emblem. It’s an alternative crop that offers a higher quality of life for those who grow it. It’s pure nourishment,” explains the mother of four—three girls and a boy.
Her dream is to continue planting, restoring our forests, and caring for the environment, always with a good cup of hot chocolate nearby.