Peruvian couple show their coffee that grows among shade trees
Peruvian farmers grow their coffee among trees that provide shade to conserve native forests, protect the soil from erosion, and increases carbon capture. | Credit: Alexander Arias

Cultivating Sustainable Solutions for Peru’s Cacao Farmers

By Siena Fleischer, Marilyn Finney, Julie MacCartee

Percy Salas Isuiza has been farming two acres of his family’s land in Peru for as long as he can remember. As a cacao farmer in the highlands at the edge of the Amazon, he faces many obstacles to growing a healthy tree crop to support his family. In 2023, Percy’s family farm lost approximately 70 percent of its cacao fruit because of inadequate soil management, pests, and disease. In the face of this adversity, the USAID-supported Peruvian Extension and Research Utilization Hub (PERU-Hub) stepped in to work hand-in-hand with Percy and other farmers to combat these challenges and prevent further losses that could hurt the farmers’ livelihoods and weaken Peru’s economy. 

PERU-Hub is a dynamic research and innovation center that explores advanced technologies in climate resilience, crop diversification, and food production to improve the livelihoods of rural farmers in Peru. Led by the National Agrarian University La Molina, PERU-Hub researchers aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 200 tons CO2e by 2026 through the use of sustainable agriculture practices. 


Man holds open rotten cacao fruit
Percy Salas holds a rotten cacao fruit, opened to display the damaged seeds.
Information for Improved Soil Management

PERU-Hub’s agricultural technology transfer system collects data from a network of weather and soil stations to provide critical, near-real-time measurements to help farmers determine crop suitability. Scientists at PERU-Hub’s partner, Oklahoma University, introduced this type of agricultural and climatological modeling system, called a mesonet, to the center. By gathering data from nearby soil-based sensors that measure soil moisture, temperature, and electrical conductivity at multiple soil depths, Peruvian farmers have the crop suitability information they need to improve their agricultural productivity. In 2023, this information helped improve the conditions of 184 hectares of cacao, palm heart, and orange crops, as well as pastures for livestock. 

Working Together to Confront Pests and Diseases

Part of PERU-Hub’s success is rooted in climate-resilient behavior change efforts. The team reaches rural farmers living on the border of the Amazon rainforest, like Percy, through Farmer Field Schools, a participatory educational approach that brings together a group of small-scale food producers to solve production problems through sustainable agriculture. PERU-Hub identified and welcomed its first cohort of farmers in November 2022. 

One of the first challenges the farmers set out to address together was pest infestations. PERU-Hub introduced the farmers to integrated management solutions, which blend Indigenous and Western approaches to effectively combat infestations, and encouraged further discussion and deliberation within the Farmer Field Schools.

The pests are pervasive. The invasive moth species, Carmenta foraseminis, is the most harmful cacao pest in the entire region. The larvae pierce the fruits and feed on the seeds, passing from the pupal stage inside the fruit to become adult moths. The presence of the pests causes inadequate maturation and fermentation and allows for the entry of fungi. According to a 2018 report by Agronoticias, a popular Peruvian virtual magazine on agricultural news, the damage can result in crop losses of 30 to 70 percent for farmers in the region. 

Moniliasis, a fungal disease, also causes significant cacao crop loss for farmers. High humidity levels and temperature conditions cause the fungus’ conidia—or reproductive spores—to reach the surface of the fruit, starting the infection. The fungus then germinates and penetrates the pod, causing internal damage to the cacao plant in its early growth stages. 


Man bagging up cacao fruit on tree
Percy Salas bags cacao in biodegradable and reusable bags to prevent pests from affecting his crops.

After participating in the Farmer Field School, Percy and other farmers in the region are using climate-smart approaches and integrated crop management to combat these invasive pests on their farms. They have adopted sustainable and efficient practices like pruning and covering cacao fruits with a protective casing, executing precise irrigation, and using pesticides and machinery judiciously, all while minimizing harm to the microfauna that benefit the local ecosystem. Integrated crop management like this prepares producers to confront extreme variations in climate—such as during prolonged periods of drought or in rainy periods that generate diseases and fungi in crops—with better mitigation methods, allowing farmers like Percy to recover their abandoned plots, prevent crop loss, and revitalize their livelihoods.

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Mitigation
Agriculture, Climate-Resilient Agriculture, Emissions, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, Mitigation
Latin America & Caribbean

Siena Fleischer

Siena Fleischer leads the USAID Innovation, Technology, and Research Hub’s Research Division (ITR/R) as the Program Manager for Bringing Research to Impact for Development, Global Engagement, and Utilization (BRIDGE-U) in Ghana, Guatemala, Liberia, and Peru. She works with higher education institutions to strengthen the pipeline of local researchers, policymakers, and practitioners skilled in facilitating research and build a knowledge base for how to effectively advance the use of evidence to create development impact. She is a Foreign Service Officer and has served with USAID across three continents over the last decade.

Marilyn Finney

Marilyn Finney is the Communications Specialist for the Research Division in the Innovation, Technology, and Research Hub at USAID.

Julie MacCartee

Julie MacCartee is a Program Officer with the Research Division in the Innovation, Technology, and Research Hub at USAID. and serves as the Alternate-AOR for the PERU-Hub project. During her ten years at USAID, she has supported numerous activities focusing on agriculture, research translation, knowledge management, and training.

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