Peru is emerging as a major cacao player, offering a quality crop and better end products. With an excellent climate for optimal growing conditions, and a highly trained workforce, the South American country is the 13th largest cacao producer in the world and the third largest in the region. In 2014, a total of 145,000 hectares produced 70,000 metric tons of cacao. Production has increased by about 5 percent per year for five years.

According to FAO, the average world production of cocoa beans in 2010-2013 was 4,5 million tons. African countries produce 73 percent of the world’s cocoa. Cote d’Ivoire provides half of this volume. Peru produced an average of 59 thousand metric tons during the same period, equivalent to 1.3 percent of the average world production.

Cacao exports in the first half of 2015 added up to $92.2 million, up about 10 percent year on year, says Peruvian Exports Association (ADEX). Peru is dedicating more land to this crop, which is now in high demand.

But some of these increases are happening at the expense of Amazon Rainforest, warns the World Resources Institute (WRI), a global research organization with over 450 experts seeking solutions to problems associated with environment and development: climate, energy, food, forests, water, and cities and transport.

“As cacao production accelerates in Peru, the Amazon Rainforest is becoming a target for cultivable land. At least one new cacao-production company has already cleared thousands of hectares of carbon-rich, biodiverse forest,” says the WRI in its blog under the headline “How Much Rainforest Is in That Chocolate Bar?”

Based on detailed satellite data gathered by the Amazon Conservation Association and published on the WRI website, most of the 2,000 hectares of land managed by United Cacao were cleared from pristine Amazon forest. “There is no high value conservation forest area on any the Group’s titled lands,” says the company on its webpage. United Cacao has no sustainable certifications on its products portfolio, and this publicly traded commercial producer is planning to expand the amount of land it uses for cocoa production.

There are, however, certified Peruvian firms making the extra effort to source cacao beans only from fields where cacao trees grow along with other trees and plants, which contribute to the conservation of the existing forests and biodiversity. This approach contributes to improving the quality and flavor of the beans. Peru is the second largest producer of organic cacao.

The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) estimates the organic cocoa market has a share of less than 0.5% of total cocoa production. But the growing number of responsible consumers today are asking for more ethical products, in addition to those that offer health and well being benefits.

Amaz, Shattell, Cacaosuyo, Orquidea and Makao Peru are a few of the young and mainly family owned enterprises offering goods with added value under their brand or private label. Machu Picchu Foods (MPF) the largest Peruvian cocoa processor, candy chocolate manufacturer and exporter has a plant exclusively for organic and kosher certified private label lines free of the top eight allergens. Cacaosuyo and Amaz have already received international awards, which recognize the fine chocolate Peru offers, sourcing cacao beans from the Amazon region that are certified organic and follow environmental and social responsibility standards from tree to shelf.