In the municipality of Manantial de Guangala, in the north of the Santa Elena Cantón in Ecuador, many farmers are over 50 years old. They feel that short-cycle crops such as maize and peppers require too much effort, and they do not see themselves continuing to grow them in the long term. One day, a group of 15 families in the area dreamt of a future with more "perennial" crops. A little over a year ago, the idea of starting a cocoa business was born.
"We said, if we want to plant cocoa, we have to go to Portoviejo, to INIAP (the National Institute for Agriculture and Livestock Studies), to buy seedlings or plants because we can't buy them here. We didn't know anything about cocoa", says José Beltrán, vice-president of the commune and promoter of the nursery initiative in the area.
Manantial de Guangala participated in the MOCCA programme funded by the USDA and led by Technoserve and Lutheran World Relief. As implementer of the programme in Ecuador, Rikolto in partnership with the PIATER project ("Project for the Innovation of Technical Assistance and Rural Extension Services") of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock delivered irrigation equipment and 5,000 plants for nurseries to the community. The group had 500 grafted plants by August 2022. Now, they have seeds that are adapted to the area's climate . "There were some farmers with cocoa production in the area, and their production was very good. So, we knew that cocoa was very well adapted to this environment," he says.
The group of nurserymen started working together in January 2022. Their goal is to have 22,000 plants grafted in the first batch, although the work is progressing according to the possibilities of the volunteers in the commune.
Beltrán points out that they dedicate one day a week to grafting: "we are a group of at least 10 people to carry out this task". Isabel Ramírez, another community member in the area, says that it has been difficult to find a dynamic that suits everyone: "we come 3 to 4 times a week to water, for example, sometimes we can't all be together". "Many people in the community did not believe that this dynamic would succeed, but now they see that it is working out", says Angélica Vera.
Together with his companions, José sees in cocoa a hope that can become a source of income for his retirement. "I am a cabinetmaker by profession, I want to make a transition: I want to put agriculture first and leave cabinetmaking in the background. I would like to bring grafted plants, with my own hands, to my farm, so I avoid the expense of bringing it from elsewhere."
"We have received a training from an engineer of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. We have all put our hands to graft these plants. We want to see who has the 'best hand' for grafting, because not all of us can be experts, but we will have other activities."
Rodrigo Mena, technical advisor to the MOCCA programme, explains that the idea is to create the conditions to transform the cocoa nursery into an agroforestry nursery.
"In that sense, the main crop will be cocoa, but there will also be a percentage of fruit, citrus and timber plants".
After a first group of plants is grafted, they will gain value and can be marketed in the area. "The idea is that in the future, farmers from the sector will come and buy 100, 200 plants," says José. "And it won't just be cocoa, we also want to grow fruit trees.”
José comments that in agriculture it is very easy to become dependent on agrochemical inputs. He is a strong promoter of the benefits of agroecology: "Because of the crisis, urea became very expensive, a sack of urea was worth more than 50 dollars. Producers were asking themselves 'what do we do? I had an organic preparation, I didn't sell it, but I gave them a taste. Afterwards, they no longer applied 8 sacks of urea, but 4 (half and half)".
The nursery initiative in the area reaffirms its commitment to more resilient agriculture.
"Today we are convinced that organic farming works, we just have to be dedicated. We need the nurseries to expand crops and to have quality farms".
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/