Nicole and I have been in Tarapoto for a week now. Tarapoto, known as the “City of Palms,” is a thriving commercial hub in Northern Peru - an hour by plane from Lima - situated in the San Martín province. The town straddles the base of the Andean foothills and the edge of the vast jungles of eastern Peru. It is a sweltering rainforest metropolis with a lot of noise from motorbikes and moto-taxis. It is sunny, humid and hot. The vegetation is just stunning, and we also experienced a tropical rain storm.
The surrounding forest descends into the lower Amazon rainforest, creating pristine ecosystems that harbor all sorts of plants including coffee, cocoa, bananas, corn, palm oil, fruits, and tobacco. From the 1970s to the 1980s, coca (cocaine) production thrived in this area and Tarapoto acted as the home base for numerous drug traffickers. At that time this place was not safe to visit, and was dominated by terrorists and drug lords. You can still find some coca plants around and people still talk about that dangerous time.
During our first week in Tarapoto, we met with coffee and cacao producers. We also went to Moyobamba, Lamas and San Jose de Sísa. We learned how coffee and chocolate are made which was very interesting. Many farmers are very poor and don’t have a lot of land and resources. TechnoServe is really making a difference, helping farmers utilize fertilizer.
We have made good progress on our project to develop a supplier based financing mechanism for the provision of fertilizers to farmers in Peru. We better understand the supplier chain of fertilizers. Through interviews with fertilizer producers, distributors and farmers, we have identified that financial mechanism and credit do exist in different forms. We have decided to keep exploring existing credit solutions, and improve it as opposed to recreating the wheel. The banks are not a solution for farmers in Peru as they are charging on average 2-3% interest per month or 25-35% per year. They were surprised when I told them that I was paying 2.5% per year for my mortgage in London.
Finally, we got our first weekend off, and made a trip to “Laguna Azul,” a popular lake. We took a boat trip across the lake. Getting there was half the fun as the minibus had to cross the Rio Huallaga, 45km away, on a vehicle raft ferry or “balsa raft” as the river has no bridge.