In central Peru there is a notorious valley named after the river of the same name that flows through the steep valley: “Monzón”. The geography of the valley has always determined the history of its inhabitants. The mountains are particularly steep and inaccessible at the headwaters and upper rivers of the Monzón.
This natural fortress formation of the mountains has always offered protection to people. For example, the Yarowilcas and Cholones cultures lived here independently most of the time and were able to resist the Incas, even though they were in the center of the empire. Today, farmers keep coming across petroglyphs and artifacts from these past cultures. The Spanish military and Franciscan missions also found little access to the valley until Peru’s independence in 1824.
One plant was cultivated by all ethnic groups in Monzón: The coca bush. The sacred leaf had both spiritual and therapeutic significance. In everyday life, people chewed it to fight hunger and cold during their daily work at high altitudes. Later, in the narcotics boom of the 1970s, production intensified, leading to serious conflicts deep into the 2000s. Since 2012, there has been peace in Monzón.
That year, the Peruvian military, with U.S. support, came to the valley with helicopters to destroy large areas of coca fields. Since then, politicians have been striving for a new future for Monzón. The transition to a legal economy is to function with numerous thoroughly financed development projects. The focus is on the cultivation of coffee and cocoa, as well as fish farming and tourism.
A lot has changed for people since then. Things have become peaceful. But the new, legal market economy does not yet function smoothly. People continue to be poor, and in their remoteness they too often have no access to hospitals, electricity, Internet or telephone networks. The routes taken by the people – and thus also by the coffee – are particularly long, leading for hours down steep mountain slopes into the valley. The time and place for handing over the coffee in exchange for money becomes a more complicated matter with each individual coffee. Even today, coca cultivation is simply a habit for most people; they have done nothing else for two generations. Before that, a little more than a hundred years ago, there was coffee. Since then, much has changed in coffee production and marketing, unfortunately not all for the better.
In 2017, Lukas was at the “Expocafé” coffee festival in Lima as part of his internship semester with the Aproeco cooperative. There he met Yordy, a young farmer who was in charge of a booth with the anti-drug organization Devida. They got along well, and the first visits to Monzón followed, in 2018 also with Daniel. You feel small when you take on the hour-long hikes to the coffee farmers.
Often you master several hundred meters of altitude, over hill and dale, past coca fields, coffee, forest and cleared areas. Every step must be chosen carefully. The terrain invites injuries, the way to a hospital is long. Most of the farmers have neither telephone signal nor internet. During the hikes we talk with our friends who invited us. They are extraordinary and inspiring personalities. We hear stories of the lawlessness in the times of the narcos, the violence, the terrorists. The events are still recent, many wounds are probably far from healed. Today, people enjoy the new peace and dream of a successful future, despite the difficult circumstances.
Since our first meeting, we have been fascinated by the idea of developing together with the farmers in Monzón. It is both a privilege and a great task for us. The operations behind the coffees are more complex than elsewhere. Bringing the coffee to Lima is a bit like evacuating from a crisis area. But in the end, the painstaking work is rewarded with exclusive microlots, and with the certainty that these treasures can convince people in Monzón, our friends, to choose coffee over coca. Year after year.
In cooperation with the Peruvian anti-drug organization DEVIDA PERÚ, the local Cooperativa Agraria Cafetalera Divisoria Ltda and the “Alianza Café” project, we have been promoting the production of specialty coffee in the valley since 2018 by marketing microlots along with the story. Through relationships, we increase people’s trust in a loyal coffee clientele. We maintain friendships with various farmers and their families in Monzón, by phone or during visits. We have long since become part of the incredible story of the Monzón Valley.