Leaving a cloud of dust in its wake, the moto-taxi tosses us around in the back seat as it drives down a bumpy dirt road through a residential
neighborhood, slowing from time to time in order to locate our final destination. Any question we have as to which house we’re going to is quickly laid to
rest as we pull up to a yellow building with tables and chairs outside, a smoking grill, and 80’s Latino pop music blasting from within. It’s Sunday
afternoon, and that means lunch at El Lechero’s house!
Ask anyone in Tarapoto if they know who Marco Aurelio is and they’ll probably scratch their head. Ask them “Conoces el Lechero?” (Do you know the
Milkman?), and you’ll receive an overwhelming response of, “El Lechero! Si, por supuesto!” (Yes, of course!).
Marco and his wife Dolly greet us with big smiles and hugs as we approach the front door. “Bienvenidos!” they say, gesturing for us to find an empty chair
among the already seated patrons, who enjoy their meals in a sea of boisterous laughter. To be clear, this isn’t the typical potluck feast where guests
pitch-in with their own dishes to break bread. Every Sunday, Marco and Dolly convert their house into a restaurant, offering the neighborhood a variety of
food and beverages for purchase. There’s no menu at Lechero’s, you simply select a protein (chicken, duck, pork or beef), which is served with an
accompaniment of rice, beans and salsa criolla. Gustavo and I both ordered the duck, which was quite tasty, and at 15 soles ($5 dollars) a plate, a real
The practice of selling goods and services from your home is not uncommon here in Tarapoto, and I doubt uncommon across most small cities in Latin America.
Another TNS employee I met, Emilio, shared a similar story about his girlfriend’s delicious lasagnas, which she makes and sells around town. Dolly is also
a cardio dance instructor, and teaches classes out of her home every other weeknight. The additional work makes for long days (Dolly spends all day
Saturday prepping for Sunday lunch), but it’s clear that the additional sources of income are very necessary for survival. I admire their entrepreneurial
spirit and drive to find creative ways to generate value for their families.
As for El Lechero, there was a time in Marco’s life where he was in fact a local milkman, delivering 100 liters a day to local businesses and residences in
Tarapoto. Today, Marco is responsible for promoting TechnoServe’s TAPS program, which was developed to educate cacao and coffee producers on the importance
of implementing critical farming practices such as pruning, fertilizing and composting.
Last week, Gustavo and I traveled with Marco to the nearby village of Sisa to see him in action. A local cacao farm hosted an educational field day,
attended by approximately 30 farmers, who were eager to learn new techniques to boost productivity levels. You would think that most people living in rural
farming towns would know the basic farming practices being taught, but the reality is most do not. The reason being, coffee and cacao are relatively new
crops for them, as 15 to 20 years ago the entire region was growing coca. Eventually, the Peruvian government stepped in to eradicate all the coca plants,
which left the farmers with one choice. They would have to learn to grow crops they had never farmed before.
It’s becoming very clear there is much work to be done here, but the programs TNS has put in place are without question making a positive impact.