Cocoa in the North West Region, Honduras

Cocoa in the North West Region, Honduras

Reintroducing cocoa in the Maya region

The big chocolate companies (Nestlé, Mars and Barry-Callebaut) are warning of future cocoa shortages, caused by the rising demand for chocolate in Asian markets and shrinking plantations as a result of climate change. There is a global need for a more sustainable production model that will boost productivity so future demand can be met. Small-scale farmers, who are responsible for 90% of global production, are therefore key to this revolution.

The Cooperativa Agrícola Cafetalera San Antonio Limitada (COAGRICSAL) is a farmers’ organisation which represents 1500 producers. It is located in Copan but has members across the North West Region, spanning 3 provinces, 14 municipalities and 38 communities. RCOAGRICSAL’s main commodity is coffee, but it is now interested in expanding to cocoa as well. There are three reasons for this: firstly, climate change is reducing the productivity of coffee fields and the cooperative wants to diversify production before the situation becomes critical. Secondly, it wants to reverse the growing trend among farmers of renting their land to sugar cane producers, a process which is very harmful for the soil. Thirdly, it wants to reintroduce cocoa because it is a traditional regional crop and is considered a way of preserving and restoring the history of the region.

A programme to introduce the crop was launched in partnership with Chocolats Halba, a Swiss company which is very active in Honduras and wants to ensure an interrupted supply of Honduran High Quality Cocoa. Their pilot project has encouraged 349 producers to start growing cocoa. They will receive financial assistance for the first 6-8 years because the plantations take years to become productive. COAGRICSAL also has a garden nursery, supported by Technoserve, with space for more than 500,000 plants and a support team of 3 technicians and 1 coordinator. The organization is well-established and can use its expertise in the coffee trade on the new crop.

The farmers live on quite isolated farms which are accessible by car. All of them have multi-crop plantations with coffee or French beans as their main commodities. Most farmers are literate but there are few opportunities to continue education to a higher level.

Challenges

  • The geographical dispersion of the farms makes it difficult to organise technical assistance and increases transport costs. The latter is exacerbated by the lack of warehouses.
  • Productivity is low due to the low density of the plantations.
  • The farmers are inexperienced in cocoa and the full production costs are still unknown.
  • The lack of knowledge regarding the cocoa crop and the cocoa market means that farmers are reticent to invest in it.
  • There are neither warehouses nor quality laboratories.
  • There is only one cocoa buyer, which make the farmers very dependent.
  • 50% of the farmers suffer food insecurity from June to August.
  • The organisation has a gender policy but it is not implemented.
  • The young people lack educational opportunities to acquire the technical knowledge that would benefit the cooperative in the long term.
  • The producers need Fair trade and Organic certifications to export the cocoa.

Our Strategies

  • To guarantee quality produce, we will help to create a quality laboratory. We will use the Venezuelan Porcelana cocoa variety as a reference point, as it is considered one of the best in the world.
  • To increase educational opportunities for youth and boost technical assistance, we will train 10 technicians or tasters each year who will be responsible for the Internal Control Systems.
  • We will encourage farmers to acquire their Organic and UTZ certifications so they can export.
  • We will find the funding for drying facilities (which will use environmentally-friendly energy) and 7 warehouses: 6 regional and one central.
  • To promote cocoa, we will develop a face-to-face campaign to present the crop to potential farmers.
  • To reduce food insecurity, we will include family vegetable gardens in the new cocoa plantations.
  • We will help organise exchanges with cocoa farmers’ organisations in Nicaragua so COAGRICSAL can learn about their strategies and learn from their success.
  • To boost the marketing position of Central American chocolate, we will support the initiative of producers from Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Belize to create AMACACAO as a common label and joint marketing effort.
  • We will support the new female president in changing gender policies and convince the management board of its importance and necessity.

Achieved results

  • The first harvest has taken place with nearly ten tonnes in total, which was of a high enough quality to export.
  • The area used for cocoa plantations has increased by 35.2 hectares, making a total of 285.2 hectares of production land.
  • Some cocoa plantations were given the UZT certificate, and others are in the process of acquiring it.
  • AMACACO is ready and will be presented in the Salon du Chocolat in Paris in October 2015.

What do we expect in the long-term?

  • The education program to train young people as technicians will ensure the future of COAGRICSAL.
  • The profitable partnership of the farmers with Chocolats Halba will motivate other companies like SOGIMEX, Oro Maya and Chocolates del Caribe to become more inclusive.
  • The network of warehouses will be installed and fully operational.
  • The cocoa plant will have been reintroduced in the Maya region, making sure ancestral traditions are not forgotten.
  • The global cocoa trade will be secured thanks to a more sustainable production model that will be able to cope with the challenges of climate change and the increasing demand from new markets.