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Chikáun: Taking Amazonian Cacao to New Heights!

Cacao project in awajún community, Chikaún cacao based products

Amazonian cacao is allowing Indigenous communities to dream even bigger.

“This cacao project with our Awajún brothers and sisters began seven years ago. During the first six years, we worked on farm and crop management, from planting to harvesting and post-harvest. Only last year did we begin transforming cacao into many different products thanks to our new factory” says Wilson Bartúren, Cool Earth’s project coordinator in the Awajún partnerships.

Cacao producers of Pámuk Bákau association receiving technical support from Cool Earth’s team in awajún community

130 members from the Awajún communities of Huaracayo and Urakuza have come together to form the producer association of Pámuk Bákau – which means Cacao Leader in Awajún. Their focus is on mastering the cultivation of native,organic and high quality cacao, using their ancestral knowledge for pest control and management.

As Javier Weepio, the association’s president, explains, the result of their efforts is “cacao with a great aroma. It sets us apart from other producers, and it’s something we want to continue developing because there is a lot of potential in our forest.”

Chikaún, the sweet tree

Not settling for only producing beans, the Pámuk Bákau have created their own brand of cacao-derived products called “Chikaún”. There is an ancient Awajún story behind this name. Chikaún is a sweet tree, found deep in the forest, that makes the best masato (a traditional local and very social alcoholic drink). As the tale goes, In the Condor Mountains, there was once a man who lived with his family. When his wife told him that they would be expecting the arrival of guests, there was only one thing to do, he took his machete, and went out into the forest to collect the ingredients to prepare masato.

Not one to stick to recipes, he decided to put his culinary ideas to the test, instead of collecting the usual ingredients he chose to pick the roots of the Chikaún tree. In a bold move he created the best batch of masato and changed the recipe forever more. It turned out he made the best masato and the rest is history.

Leonel, Flor and Cemilia team members of the chocolate factory smile at the camera and proudly hold up their Chikaun products

Leonel, Flor and Cemilia team members of the chocolate factory showing Chikaun products

“For us, it’s really important. Registering this brand wasn’t easy. We were unfamiliar with the processes. We didn’t even know where the offices were. Cool Earth helped us with that. Now that the brand is out there, we want to reach international markets. We want our income to keep growing, improve our chocolate factory and help our producers,” adds Javier.

Chikaún sells cacao juice, made from cacao pulp and natural sweeteners, macambo nibs made from wild cacao, cacao nibs, dark chocolate bars, chocotejas (filled chocolates), hot drinking chocolate and cacao jam. You can now find Chikaún products  at local and national trade shows and excitingly also on the brand’s recently launched Facebook page, here.

Awajún cacao makes it to Latin America’s food capital

Lima’s Chocolate Show is where the country’s amazing cacao and chocolate products converge for an unforgettable weekend each year. And, its reach is international. Chikáun made its big debut this year and it has been immensely successful.

Cemilia Pijushkun part of the post-harvest team smiles at the camera, she is wearing traditional Awajún dress including a red dress, with traditional jewellery. She holds a cacao pod in her hands. Behind her we can see the cacao fair taking place, the Chikáun stall is directly behind her where we can see more cacao pods and the cacao products for sale.

Cemilia Pijushkun part of the post-harvest team holding a cacao

Cemilia Pijushkun has been working as part of the post-harvest team since 2022.

“We have been participating in fairs in smaller Peruvian cities like Chachapoyas but now we are here in Lima. In these events, we learn a lot about how to sell and continually improve our products. (…) From drying the cacao to fermentation and making the products, we do everything ourselves.”

The drive to keep growing means that the team is eager to travel and participate in these big events. The knowledge gained for the team is so important, but equally it’s a fantastic opportunity for them to share their story, as international brands and chocolate enthusiasts tasted Chikaún’s products and learned how this chocolate protects rainforest.

Javier president of Pamuk Bakau association of cacao producers smiles at the camera, he is wearing a traditional dress head pice and holds a cacao pod in each hand.

Javier president of Pamuk Bakau association of cacao producers

“We have done very well at this fair. We participated, learned, and sold our products. We also learned from other brands so that we come back even stronger next year,” says Javier Weepio.

The Pámuk Bákau success story would not have been possible without the support of our generous donors, the dedication of the local teams and the huge efforts made by cacao producers in Huaracayo and Urakuza to revitalise cacao culture in the region.

With special thanks to the players of People’s Postcode Lottery for their unconditional support.

This adventure is just beginning! Stay tuned for more updates.