In an area with high cocoa production potential, such as the North West of Pichincha in Ecuador, 127 producers are receiving training, obtaining credit and reaping success thanks to the alliance between FACES-IDB and the Maximising Opportunities for Coffee and Cocoa in the Americas (MOCCA) programme. Read their story here.
In 2019, a cocoa route was promoted in the emblematic Chocó Andino Biosphere Reserve. It was then that the public started recognising again the potential of Pichincha's cocoa, which is characterised by the genetic richness from plantations with more than 100 years of history.
"We are defending this cocoa because in Ecuador it is practically being lost. We are giving it a different twist, an added value, in agro-ecological farms," says Carmen Armijos, representative of ASOANE - Asociación Agropecuaria Artesanal Nueva Esperanza.
ASOANE is a small farmers' organisation in Puerto Quito, Pichincha, and proud custodian of the production of unique Heirloom Cacao species in the area, the revelation of the Cacao de Excelencia del Ecuador" Contest in 2022.
The organisation protects cocoa of local origin, characterised by its high quality, with the support of the Maximising Opportunities for Coffee and Cocoa in the Americas Programme (MOCCA) and the Green Financing for Agricultural Sustainability Project of the microfinance institution FACES Foundation and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)
In Pichincha, ASOANE's example is encouraging more and more producers to see cocoa as an income opportunity. In areas such as San Miguel de Los Bancos, Pedro Vicente Maldonado and Puerto Quito, 127 producers have received training and access to credit through the initiative.
The objective is the sustainable management of cocoa production systems, ensuring access to credit and investment to modernise their farms, improve processes and renew plantations to adapt to climate change. ASOANE producers join a total of 715 credits that have been placed through the MOCCA-FACES-IDB alliance, for a total of $3.2 million.
Carmen tells us that the ASOANE team has been building its success since its creation 18 years ago, when few dared to grow agroecological cocoa. Today, grouping 35 partner families, although they are a small organisation, they export mainly to the USA. Since they won the contest, their phone hasn't stopped ringing.
With support from the MOCCA programme and FACES-IDB, they incorporated processes to improve their fermentation between 2021 and 2022. Thus, they went from 9th place in the first edition of the Cocoa of Excellence Contest to being winners in the second edition. Jorge Morillo from FACES-BID explains the dynamics and objective of the training that accompanied the success of the producers in Pichincha.
"The alliance provided training in agroforestry systems, plantation nutrition plan, crop pruning, integrated pest and disease management, associativity, among other practices that needed to be reinforced in the area. There was also a module on agroforestry systems and diversification. The idea is not to manage only monocultures, but to diversify crops and activities to improve family incomes".
"Based on these trainings, we have been improving the fermentation of our cocoa in the harvest and post-harvest process as well.” Carmen explains that the experience had additional benefits, which helped them learn more about their own product.
As part of its work with MOCCA, the association is part of the Cocoa Flavour Map, a regional initiative promoted by Lutheran World Relief, leader of MOCCA's cocoa programme, which provides technical advice to organisations on developing flavour profiles.
Through the Flavour Map, ASOANE has incorporated quality protocols at harvest and post-harvest, and developed a flavour profile with hints of crème brulee, sultana and walnut. This has been named "Choco Jacamara", after the jacamara, a local bird.
Carmen says that the association also promotes community tourism to provide more income for the producers. The intention is to broaden its base. Demand from more customers and their newfound fame may give them the boost they need.
"We have several derivatives of the national fine flavour cocoa, including chocolates with different percentages (63%, 80% and 100%). We have cocoa pulp - a new product that is being used in gourmet cuisine and cocktail bars - cocoa paste, cocoa powder and cocoa butter. Customers ask us for quality. Every customer we have comes to us, meets us and sees how we transform cocoa from the root to the bar.
ASOANE's success is just the starting point for an area with productive potential like Pichincha. Their experience encourages other producers, already involved in similar processes and for whom access to credit can make a difference.
"In the future, we see ourselves as bigger, giving a community to our producers, so that they can move forward and live in dignity in each of their homes".
From another area of Pichincha, a cocoa producer named Carlos is inspired by ASOANE's success. He said, "a first prize for cocoa from the North West of Pichincha means something. Means we are doing something right." That helps us to continue with more encouragement locally and nationally. Carlos himself had the support of MOCCA and FACES-BID to improve his post-harvest process.
He comes from a family of cocoa farmers and decided to try CCN51. He is not yet a member but hopes to inspire an associative movement in the area. His farm is part of a demonstration model that aims to encourage other farmers in his area to improve cocoa processes.
As part of the experience with MOCCA and FACES-IDB, he visited renowned associations in Esmeraldas, El Milagro and Quinindé. He used the credit that he requested to buy a canopy to protect the drying cocoa beans, expand his planting area, incorporate banana trees and diversify his plot.
"The farm is diversified, I think of it in the future almost as an integral farm. The idea is to have everything: chickens, tilapia, crops of different cycles. We have cassava, bananas, cocoa, among other crops."
The greatest impact of Carlos' experience is that he has been able to share it with his neighbours, who are also cocoa producers. "Many are already thinking about producing cocoa and selling at a higher price, with the marquee model," says Carlos.
Carlos is sometimes asked to borrow the canopy he bought with the credit, in order to pool volumes and be able to sell locally together. Jorge Morillo explains that "the idea with the canopy is that they stop selling cocoa in slime to middleman. To motivate them to go through the process that takes 10 to 15 days, the post-harvest process, and to sell the dried cocoa.” Carlos recalls that having tangible results was the starting point. "And we saw the results. We had a profit of 50 USD delivering dry cocoa beans (with the canopy), when before we were delivering in slime."
In his area, companies like Nestlé give a standard price for all producers who make good fermented and dried beans. Jorge "with the producers, we visited collection centres so that they could get to know the marketing systems. There was also a field workshop with Nestlé, where the technicians came and told the producers about the specifics and requirements.
MOCCA is a 7-year initiative funded primarily by the US Department of Agriculture through their Food for Progress programme, which aims to increase agricultural productivity and trade. TechnoServe is the MOCCA Consortium Leader and leads the coffee programme, while Lutheran World Relief leads the cocoa programme.
Hand in hand with the public and private sector, the MOCCA iniciative funded by USDA was executed in Ecuador by Rikolto for the period 2019-2023 (first semester). Follow MOCCA's next steps in their global website: https://mocca.org/en/