THE BLOG
09/22/2014 04:12 pm ET Updated Nov 22, 2014

Chocolate Is Saving My Jungle

My people only came into contact with the western world a generation ago. But in those 30 years we, the Waorani people, have learned we live in what could be the most biodiverse place on Earth: the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve.

The lush, dense jungles we call home are part of a reserve that covers over 4,000 square miles -- almost the size of Connecticut. There are around 600 tree species here. We have more tree species in one square mile here than in all of the U.S., Canada and Mexico combined.

Over time though, the ecosystem we've relied for so long on, has become burdened. Demand for bush meat, timber and oil backed us into a corner. We needed to reassert our custodianship of the land, but we had to come up with a creative way of doing it that would restore natural harmony and give us economic stability at the same time.

The answer came from our tribal women: CHOCOLATE! Grow our own organic cocoa and make our own line of chocolate: WAO.

My people were once solitary hunters and gatherers who lived from day to day. Our chocolate production has changed this. It has brought our women together to plant, maintain, harvest, process and sell the cacao.

We stopped selling meat in 2010 and planted cocoa beans. It took three years for them to bear fruit, but we were patient. We trusted and worked with the forests. Our patience was rewarded in ways we didn't expect.

The bush meat market of Pompeya in Ecuador was the largest in the country for meats. It used to move 10 tons of meat a year -- everything from jaguars to monkeys -- placing an unsustainable pressure on our mammal population and threatening our own food security. It has now been shut down without violence thanks to our chocolate production.

Our cocoa trees now cover 30 hectares, restoring the green jungle cover. This has brought the mammal population back.

Before we started selling chocolate, some women here made no money. But we have revitalized the local economy. Every woman in the cooperative now makes money and our incomes have improved dramatically -- for some this meant a jump from nothing to USD$30 a month, for others it's USD$50 and some are even earning up to USD$150. We have better access to health, education and housing resources. Quality of life is quickly improving.

With all our farms run by women, our new role in the community is inspiring the next generation of both young women and men, to take on leadership to broaden our community development and build a bridge between our former way of life with the contemporary world.

I'm already working on this bridge. I'm coming to New York during Climate Week, to meet other indigenous people who are also working to raise their incomes and preserve nature, including those at the United Nations Development Programme Equator Prize.

We, the Waorani, now stand as a united people thanks to our sisterhood. We are no longer reliant on companies who want the natural resources beneath our feet and we have restored balance to the land. But our role as protectors of the environment in this new world is only just beginning. There is still a long way to go and we need your support.

Now then, have you had a chance to taste WAO? It's 70 percent cocoa and utterly delicious. I guarantee it.