Sustainable cocoa and coffee

Exchange of experiences between Central American and Dominican farmers

February 21, 2020
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By Giselle Alemán, Dominican Republic, Sept. 2017. On the Dominican part of the island of Hispaniola, four shade-grown cacao varieties prevail in agroforestry systems: National, Trinitarian (from Trinidad and Tobago and Brazil), Criollo from Venezuela and a small amount of Forastero cacao from Brazil. These varieties were very carefully introduced to the island, which keeps a detailed record of the origins of its cacao.

Cacao has been a traditional crop in the Dominican Republic, cultivated since the 1940s and exported in volumes of over 25,000 metric tons. Today, in times of good harvests the island receives more than USD 250 million from its export; furthermore, the country is literally oxygenating itself through the cultivation of cacao, which accounts for 9.5% of the total forest cover.

The farming model is based on the organization of the Dominican cacao value chain actors, which drew the attention of farmers in Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala who undertook a trip to this Caribbean country in order to learn from its experiences.

“The reason I came here are their production volumes, and to see these cooperatives with such high capacities” declared Santos Chirinos, a specialist of the Honduran Consortium composed of the European Union, Helvetas and VECOMA. Chirinos added that he was impressed by the farseeing actions taken by the Dominican Republic as to the plant replacement and plant diseases, such as the frosty pod rot and witch’s broom.

“I was impressed by the fact that they are already changing from hybrid cacao to grafted cacao. We in Honduras have the same problem with adult plantations of many years of age, and here they are already tackling this; in my country, we are working in the same way, which implies that in the region we are all interested in improving this point”, Chirinos explained.

Another aspect that drew the attention of the Central American participants was the organizational strength in the Dominican Republic. An example is the National Cacao Commission (CONACAO), created in 1976, which drafts cacao policies and cooperates with the Cacao Department in the Ministry of Agriculture. To guarantee the sector´s sustainability, cacao exporters have made contributions of USD 0.01 per exported kilogram for over 40 years; this money is used to finance CONACAO’s operations and cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture.

With the help of the funds raised, farmers and exporters are able to self-finance the following:

• Planting material, trainings for farmers and extension workers

• Improvement of rural roads relevant for farming purposes

• Restoration of clone gardens and plant nurseries

• Financial engineering for the repayment of cacao farmers’ debts

• Support to research of national and international institutions

• Training of technical staff

• Participation in fairs and events for international positioning and marketing

A new experience that we take is to see how they have worked hand in hand with the government, and even the government is supporting 100% of the commission (CONACAO), and that has allowed the empowerment of the commission and the organization with the base producers, is strengthened and is the part that we have to work in Nicaragua.

Leoncio Altamirano


Business-oriented association and cooperativism

The Dominican Republic is the main organic cacao exporting country in the world, with approximately 72,000 tons of total annual exports, 16,000 tons of which are organic. The structure of this value chain is based on a solid network of farmers’ associations and cooperatives with strong membership, the largest one being the National Confederation of six associations with 12,000 farmers, who export their cacao mainly to Europe.

“The experience of the Dominican Republic teaches us some very interesting lessons. For our farmers who are presently working on how to successfully achieve a vision of organization-building and quality, and beyond that, on the unification not only of our knowledge, but also of business-oriented agreements”, stated Ninoska Hurtado, coordinator of the Cacao Value Chain Knowledge Management Project, financed by the Swiss Cooperation for Central America and implemented by VECO Mesoamérica.

“A new experience that we are taking home with us is to see the way in which they have worked hand in hand with the government; in fact, the government is fully supporting the Commission (CONACAO), which allows the strengthening of its empowerment and of the organization of the farmers at the grassroots level, and this is what we need to work at in Nicaragua”, said Leoncio Altamirano, President of the Nicaraguan Chamber of Cacao Farmers (CANICACAO).

In addition to the introduction of new genetic material, another similarity found is the cost distribution mechanism for the existing certifications among the members of farmers’ cooperatives.

“We have already been working with very specific certifications that the market requests from us, for example the certification of organic production. And we coincide with the Dominican Republic on sharing its costs among the members of the cooperative according to their farm size, in order to reduce its impact on the farmer’s pocketbook” declared Milder José Chub Leal, farmer of FUNDALACHUA from Guatemala.

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A view towards regional planning and creation of regional alliances

The country of El Salvador, currently formulating its National Policy, was represented by Eufemia Segura, specialist of the National Center for Farming Technology CENTA. She referred to the country’s vision of the future: “We know how other countries have evolved; therefore we want to put things in order in ours, and since El Salvador is so small, our focus is on quality, not only beans and raw material, but also a line of chocolate making that will allow farmers to position themselves on the market and sell successfully”, she said.

“In Central America, we have successful but very tiny experiences, and they are not shared; but in spaces such as this we can get to know each other, and the exchange knowledge among Central Americans and the Dominican Republic will help us to develop the sector more rapidly”, Segura added.

Central America as a bloc “would have more market opportunities”, expressed Nelson Lara, farmer of the Honduran Cacao Farmers’ Association APROSACAHO, arguing that the present volume of production is insufficient to meet the demand. “We would obtain better prices, because not even together do we reach the level of exports of the Dominican Republic, so I believe that unification is key for Central America”.

The Dominican lesson

The opportunity for the exchange of experiences between farmers and the visits to the plantations, cooperatives, storage centers and processing plants was a privilege that required all participants to comply with a series of hygiene norms, in order to avoid bringing diseases such as the frosty pod rot and witch’s broom back to Central American plantations. It has been through precisely this kind of control that the Dominican Republic has been kept free of these pests.

For us it is of great interest to know the way in which the Central Americans handle their plantations in the case of pests such as Moliniasis and Escoba de Bruja, diseases that we do not have, but for which we are preparing in case of having to face them.

Angel Castrillo

CONACACAO Representative

“The opportunity to hold a dialogue with Central American farmers is very enriching for us, because we want to know how they tackle these diseases in order to be prepared, not only with resistant plants but also as to management”, stated Orlando Rodríguez, Associated Researcher on Cacao of the Dominican Republic Agricultural and Forestry Research Institute (IDAF).

Dialogue is key, as cultural practices are decisive in the management of the crops. Thus, the Central American and Dominican experiences are of great help in the context of regional integration. For example, in Honduras the Dominicans learned of the fermentation process in boxes one on top of the other: “for us, this was a complete revelation that revolutionized the way in which we did things, and it was only after visiting Honduras that we improved our practices, which says a lot about the value of these kinds of exchanges for knowledge management”, expresses Nin Arias, representative of the Cibao Cacao Farmers’ Association.

At the end of the event, the majority of farmers committed themselves to keeping up the exchange of information among participants through virtual platforms and occasional face-to-face exchanges. The purpose of the group is to strengthen the integration processes on the basis of the farmer cooperatives’ vision for the positioning of the sector and its access to new markets.

• Interior, Lola Noriega and Carlos Depradel,

• CONACAO, Carlos MI. Peñaló, Institutional Presentation.

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