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Sustainable Livelihoods, Microenterprise Projects

Building on the success of the Brazil nut program, ACA is working in Cusco and Madre de Dios to identify livelihood alternatives that support biodiversity conservation for local communities. These projects include reforestation as well as sustainable fish farming and small-scale tarwi and cacao farming.


Forests in the high Andes are critically important for watershed protection, erosion control, and biodiversity. In 2014, about 30,000 seedlings were planted on degraded land, and an additional 30,000 new seedlings were grown and cared for in three ACA-sponsored community tree nurseries in Cusco’s highlands. The new seedlings were also used to reforest degraded areas within communal territories in early 2015, bringing the total number of trees we have planted for highlands reforestation to nearly 249,000. Additionally, local communities are often familiar with medicinal, artisanal, and other particular uses of local species, receiving even more benefits from their reforestation efforts.

Fish Farming

Fish are a dietary staple and an important source of protein in Madre de Dios. As illegal and informal gold mining activity has grown in the region, so has mercury contamination in the region’s waterways and in its wild fish populations. Fish farming offers a sustainable, healthy, and profitable alternative. (Learn more about fish farming in Cusco's Santa Rosa de Huacaria.) 

Over the past several years, we have supported the creation of over 40 fish ponds for the cultivation of native river fish in communities along the MAT Corridor. Our field team provides direct field assistance, gives technical and backstopping support, and holds regular training events to work with small-scale producers as they participate in the robust regional market for fish such as paco (Piaractus brachypomus).


In the Andean highlands, ACA supports the production of tarwi (Lupinus mutabilis), a native crop that grows well in marginal soils, resists drought, and thrives with organic production methods. Tarwi is a protein-rich bean with high levels of iron and calcium, providing important nutritional benefits to local communities. Because tarwi is a legume, the crop also has nitrogen-fixing properties, which can improve soil fertility and help reduce agricultural expansion, contributing to the conservation of threatened highland forests.

ACA supports over 83 small farmers as they grow organic tarwi. We provide seeds, as well as technical and marketing support for the crop, which boasts a strong regional market and delivers favorable returns to beneficiaries. In 2014 alone, farmers produced nearly 60,000 pounds of tarwi thanks to our support. We are also helping them improve production by evaluating pests and disease that might damage tarwi growth, as well as collecting resistant seeds for future crops.


Cacao thrives in the Amazonian lowlands, and small-scale farmers growing cacao forms part of ACA’s multiuse MAT Corridor. Because cacao trees grow well in the shade of taller crops or within intact rainforest, cacao is a profitable crop that keeps trees standing. In fact, the quality of cocoa beans improves in the shade!

As the central ingredient in chocolate, cocoa (processed from the beans of the cacao tree) is a crop with a huge market demand. This makes sustainable farming practices even more important to ensure high yields year after year. But in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, the closest local market remains Cusco, several hours to the north. ACA has been working with farmers in the MAT Corridor to grow varieties of cacao that will shorten their growing periods and make the crop more disease-resistant. We have also been helping local cacao growers establish an association, which will allow them to avoid the middleman and receive a higher price. In 2014, we planted over 145 acres of cacao.

rev. June 2015


Photo of reforestation

Reforestation in Sunchubamba, Peru. Photo: Cesar Moran

Photo of Incan peanut shelling machine

Jesse Austin-Breneman of MIT’s D-Lab demonstrates the Sacha Inchi sheller at the ACCA Cusco office. Photo: Megan MacDowell

Photo of sacha inchi

Dried Sacha Inchi. Photo: Megan MacDowell

Photo of dyed yarn garment

The dyed yarn is woven into a garment. Photo: Cesar Moran

red tapestry