Young farmers secure Ecuador´s fine flavour cocoa

Young farmers secure Ecuador´s fine flavour cocoa

Preserving the original Ecuadorian Fine Flavour Cocoa
This project is part of the following focus area:

Ecuador is the world’s main exporter of high quality cocoa, also called Fine Flavour Cocoa (FFC). The country has its own Cocoa variety called ‘National’ or ‘Arriba’ which is highly prized among gourmet chocolate producers and consequently obtains high market prices. However, the ‘National’ variety more susceptible to diseases, so some farmers prefer to grow lower quality varieties, like CCN51, more productive and resistant. This affects the diversity of the region’s crops and could lead to the extinction of the native plant in the long term. Moreover, due to the low prices offered for common cocoa varieties, large production areas must be cultivated in order to be profitable, whereas the high quality cocoa is lucrative in small plots and thus ideal for small family farmers. The Ecuadorian government, through its Ministry of Farming, Ranching, Aquaculture and Fishing (MAGAP) has created a plan to promote the Fine Flavour Cocoa which it considers a strategic product for the national economy.

Rikolto (formerly VECO) works in the coastal province of Esmeraldas in the north-west of Ecuador. The region’s economy is mainly based on fishing, tourism and farming. 29% of its population are farmers, most of whom live under the poverty threshold. Our main partner in the region is the Union of Arriba Cocoa Producers’ Organizations in Esmeraldas (UOPROCAE), a union of 7 farmers’ organizations which jointly represent more than 387 farmer families. The union was established in 2012. One of its affiliate organizations is the Organic Cocoa Producers Association of the Atacames Canton (APROCA) which was founded in 2005 and has 116 members.

Rikolto works in collaboration with the Ecuadorian government and the Flemish Association for Development Cooperation and Technical Assistance (VVOB) to strengthen the Fine Flavour cocoa trade chain through the implementation of two educational programmes, in the production and commercialization of cocoa for youngsters. Also the company PACARI is partner. Together with PACARI we want to improve the quality of the cacao and give the farmers a better position in the chain.

Our aim is to directly support the 387 families in UOPROCAE and 15 000 more indirectly linked to the cocoa chain in Esmeraldas.


  • There is low productivity due to obsolete farming practices. The crops are grown without irrigation, scarce use of fertilizers and a lack of agricultural techniques. Better farming procedures would increase production exponentially.
  • Difficult to obtain and maintain the high quality certificates required by European markets due to a lack of documentation.
  • UOPROCAE needs to be better organised with more participation platforms for youth and women, since most current members are male and over 30.
  • Young people in the community do not have enough educational opportunities to acquire the technical knowledge that would benefit the cooperative in the long term.
  • Some studies have found high cadmium levels in the cocoa plants. To preserve, the food safety and prestige of Ecuadorian fine flavour coaoca, this problem must be investigated.
  • The tendency to substitute FF Cocoa with lower quality, more productive varieties (especially CCN51) creates a diversity impoverishment which devalues the crop and makes it more vulnerable to diseases.


  • To increase productivity, we are participating in a pilot programme which involves three-step technical training:
    Installation of irrigation systems in 10 different farms
    Training specialized pruning teams
    Launch of 30 organic fertilization programmes
  • To maintain the organic and high quality certification, we help create standard quality criteria for all UOPROCAE members through the use of Internal Control Systems.
  • We advise UOPROCAE so it can built an effective organization, open to all its members.
  • We participate in researching the cadmium levels found in the cocoa plants, to find if these are within the permitted levels and the best strategies to reduce them.
  • To formalize the relationship between PACARI and UOPROCAE, we work with both actors to create inclusive renewable annual contracts.
  • We promote the National Round Table of cocoa as a tool to improve the coordination between the different actors in the cocoa chain in Esmeraldas.
  • To increase the opportunities for young people within the associations, Rikolto coordinates a pilot project with VVOB and the government to introduce a Technical Production Program. The course lasts one year and complements the High School Diploma, training young people in the production and commercialization of fine flavour cocoa.
  • We will use the results of this pilot project with the 2 farmer organisations UOPROCAE and APROCA and the research to influence MAGAP’s cocoa policies.

Project period

24 months. The project started in May 2014 and was completed in April 2016. However, VECO will continue working with APROCA and UOPROCAE within the framework of our program 2017-2021 in order to further strengthening the cocoa chain in Esmeraldas.


  • UOPROCAE: About 400 cocoa families which are organized into seven productive cooperatives (APROCA, APROCAM, ECOCACAO, COOPERATIVE VELASCO IBARRA, APROCAR, GRANO DEL TESORO y UNIDOS POR EL CAMBIO), and located in five districts in the coastal province Esmeraldas (Rioverde, Atacames, Esmeraldas, Quinindé and Muisne).
  • APROCA: 125 affiliated cocoa families living in the canton Atacames are benefiting directly from the technical and business capacity strengthening activities, along with the policies of APROCA aimed at promoting the inclusion of youngsters in the cooperative.
  • Technical Secondary Colleges: 63 teachers and 778 students of the secondary educational institutes located in Tachina and Quinindé.
  • Indirect beneficiaries: 300 cocoa cultivating families living in the province of Esmeraldas.

Obtained results

  • Strengthened vocational training related to cocoa cultivation for high school students: We have improved the academic curriculum of technical high schools that provide vocational formation in cocoa cultivation by applying a more practice-oriented educational approach. This approach has been implemented through the creation of Productive Educational Units in Cocoa in two agricultural secondary schools in Quinindé and Tachina. Before establishing these units (or modules), teachers taught the cocoa cultivation and crop management in a very theoretical way, using only teaching manuals without providing any opportunity for students to put in practice what they had learned in class. Today, these units allow young students between 16 and 18 years old to experiment and practice cocoa crop management in the newly built educational demonstration spaces at school, such as the cocoa plantations or spaces for the production of organic fertilizer. Part of their training includes an internship in a cocoa cooperative.
  • Inclusion of youngsters: through a revision of the internal regulations of the cooperative, it is now easier to incorporate young cocoa farmers formally into the organizational and decision-making structure of the cooperative APROCA. For instance, the internal regulations stipulates nowadays that there must exist a youth committee, determines the quorum for decision-making by taking into account a minimum number of votes of youngsters and a minimum number of young associative members forming the Board of Directors, sets lighter membership requirements for young members (youth pay only 50% of the membership fee). In addition, the youth committee has been established aimed at enhancing the participation of youngsters and currently counts 20 members. Apart from the youth committee, young farmers participate in decision-making processes as they hold administrative and technical functions.
  • Inclusive business: In 2016, the cocoa associations APROCA-UOPROCAE and the private chocolate enterprise Pacari Chocolate signed their first commercial contract, which formalizes their commercial transactions and consolidates an inclusive business and stes an example for the value chain of fine flavour cocoa. Through this formal contract, both parties agreed to establish a sustainable long-term business relationship.
  • Conducting research on the uptake of cadmium: we’ve investigated the uptake of the heavy metal cadmium –that is harmful for human health-by cocoa leaves, beans and in the soil content through sample analysis. Based on these results, we’ve implemented mitigation actions such as the use of different fertilization schemes in cocoa farms, in order to decrease the absorption of cadmium. The research and mitigation actions revealed encouraging results to reduce the presence of cadmium found in cocoa.

  • Management model: external audits have been conducted on the administrative and financial systems of APROCA and UOPROCAE, which will allow to obtain clear and reliable information on financial and commercial transactions of both cooperatives, in order to improve their respective organizational models.

  • UOPROCAE implemented a strengthened and unified internal control system to be able to maintain organic and fair trade certifications for their cocoa production.

  • Innovation and modernization of the production processes: APROCA now counts on 4 pruning teams, composed among others by youngsters. These teams provide pruning services to other members of APROCA, resulting in the pruning of 3410 cocoa trees representing 10 hectares of cocoa. In addition, irrigation systems has been installed in 4 farms and currently 30 members of APROCA are using two different techniques of organic fertilization to improve productivity.

Long-term impact

Rikolto facilitates and articulates between various actors involved in the fine flavour cocoa chain: together with the public sector (the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Foreign Trade), chocolate companies, productive cooperatives and NGOs, we are developing a national positioning strategy aimed at strengthening Ecuador’s international market position as one of the world’s main exporter of high quality cocoa.