Why is a project like PERU-Hub important in the San Martin Region?

Written by: Janet Mori

Communications Office of PERU-hub


“The knowledge exists, but the question is: How do we turn it into technology for the Peruvian jungle?”

The question posed by Dr. Hugo Villachica, Director of PERU-Hub, was the premise he highlighted during the launching ceremony of the project he presides, an event that took place in a cozy hotel in Tarapoto, an important city in the San Martin Region. For years, farmers in the Peruvian Amazon have shown effort and perseverance to get out of complicated situations, among the most important, the tendency to engage in illicit cropping and subsistence status. However, the farmers, whether independent or associated in cooperatives, determined to change the destinies of both themselves and their families, came up against a sad reality:

Dr. Hugo Villachica, Director of PERU-Hub, speaking to participants of the project workshops in Tarapoto, San Martin.

“We have taken the farmer out of subsistence agriculture and out of the influence of illicit coca cultivation, we have taken him to a level of commercial or market agriculture, where he encounters new technical and other problems. He seeks, but usually finds no solution to his new problems. There are limited opportunities for farmers outside their sphere, much less for women and peasant communities”.

Dr. Villachica began his speech by addressing this great difficulty faced by Peruvian jungle producers. The launching of PERU-Hub was attended by about 90 people, including national and foreign authorities, as well as agricultural leaders, among whom were two women’s associations dedicated to the production and marketing of cocoa, a highly valued fruit from which they learned to add value (such as chocolate). They expect new markets with the support of PERU-Hub, a project of the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina (UNALM) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The story of these entrepreneurs to become heads of households is truly commendable. In the not too distant past, their husbands or partners only saw coca cultivation as the only option for survival, until an international institution trained them to take the lead in the family economy, providing them with knowledge ranging from alternative crop production to marketing workshops. Their children are now even professionals and help their mothers in the fields. But not all farmers have had the same opportunities in the Peruvian jungle.


According to Villachica, only 20 percent have received technical assistance and only 9 percent participate in business associations or cooperatives. Seventy percent have only gone as far as elementary education and 20 percent have had access to technology. Without assistance, education and technology, it is difficult to access the market. In addition, the jungle farmer is at a disadvantage because of the long distances to markets such as Lima or other provinces, or to ports for export.

Cooperativa Agraria "Allima Cacaco", beneficiary organization of the project during the exhibition of products at the PERU-Hub Launch.

What is the solution? Innovation and technology transfer.

“In the University (UNALM) and outside the country there is knowledge to solve several of the existing problems, what we need is to make that knowledge available to the farmer. That is where innovation comes in, to generate technologies that make this knowledge available to the farmer”.

In other words, as said by Dr. Hugo Villachica, academic knowledge should not remain on paper. That is why the creation of this Hub means the beginning of a center for the generation and extension of innovative technologies to promote the sustainable development of the region.  This Hub will be located in Pucayacu, one of the farms of the Regional Institutes for Agrarian Development, present throughout the country. At the Pucayacu farm, located in Tarapoto, approximately 240 leaders will be trained, 60 per year, including farmers, university representatives, office employees, teachers and all those who have leadership skills to teach others. These people will come mainly from the Central Huallaga Valley.

“The university will conduct activities and install production plots in Pucayacu to demonstrate to farmers that new sustainable technologies are affordable and profitable. At the same time we will install validation plots to develop new technologies and new crop options. The research work will be carried out through 40 theses that should generate 40 new insights. Farmers do not only need technology to increase the productivity and competitiveness of a product. They need technology to have other forms of products and access to the market or to open new markets,” said the director of PERU-Hub.

The Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, through PERU-Hub, will carry out the innovation and the participants will benefit from learning and knowledge transfer. But this work would not be possible without strategic partners. The launching ceremony was attended not only by representatives of USAID, co-financer of the project, but also by representatives of Purdue University, Oklahoma University, Utah State University, as well as the Bioversity-CIAT alliance, institutions that have specific roles in contributing to knowledge, technologies, methodologies in soil and crop studies, climate studies and entrepreneurship.

Incubagraria, the business incubator of the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, will train farmers to develop their businesses and have the capacity to negotiate. This work will be carried out in conjunction with the incubator of the Universidad Nacional de San Martín, with the objective of making the learning process and its application sustainable over time.

But, what crops will PERU-Hub work with? As a farmer and agronomist with vast experience in the public and private sector, Dr. Villachica knows that, although there is a lot of enthusiasm in the team, there is a lot of work to be done in the first stage of project implementation. Initially, it is necessary to work with cacao.  According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, there are 181,000 hectares of cocoa at the national level, of which about 50,000 are in production in San Martin. Cocoa farmers are asking for support and their request will not be ignored. But we will also work on the recovery of degraded pastures and livestock, with the incorporation of appropriate agrosilvopastoral systems.

Experience indicates that accessing other markets requires innovation through diversification. New versions of an already known product or new products are required. That is why export products will be promoted, with the introduction of tropical fruits such as passion fruit and soursop:

“We can develop the cultivation of soursop for export. There are varieties that produce better for export, which have more pulp. The University is going to install a food processing plant in Pucayacu, with a couple of freezing chambers. In simple terms, the process consists of: The fruit is harvested, taken to the processing plant, the peel is removed, the pulp is collected and frozen so that it does not spoil. A quantity of pulp obtained, is loaded into a container and sent to the port, which can be Olmos; we do not have to go to Lima. We have the capability to compete.”

Rossemary Carpio Mg.Sc., coordinator of the Food Transformation component, and Engineer Andrea Sanchez , food specialist, are part of the PERU-Hub team in charge of developing new food products.

Dr. Villachica also reported during the presentation of PERU-Hub, that statistics indicate that in the Region, 85 percent of landowners have less than 10 hectares. These are small-scale agriculture, family properties that are often divided among the children. So, we are talking about small enterprises that will be assisted. But the success of PERU-Hub will not be possible without the support of national institutions and private investment:

“We are not trying to discover new things in what already exists, what we want is to support and continue what has already been done, we will look for more profitable options for marketing; as well as new versions of new crops or products”, pointed out the Director of PERU-Hub, who finally noted that in the five years of project implementation, we will seek that farmers, women and indigenous communities are trained in the use of improved technologies, either in current and new crops, in food processing, market access and marketing, improving agricultural productivity and profitability with sustainable management of resources. 

In five years we will see the results, convinced that we will gather many success stories.