The Atlantic coast of Honduras has the perfect climate for growing cacao, though 80% of the estimated 4000 cacao producers grow on less than one hectare. Only 10% of the 1500 tonnes annual production is currently exported as high-quality cocoa, and only 5% of the income made during the whole value chain goes to the farmer. The problem is the reluctance of producers to acknowledge the benefits of increasing quality and to take the necessary steps. The solution? To build capacities of producers, processors and traders, and support the production and marketing of high quality cacao.
CDAIS - a global partnership on capacity development for agricultural innovation systems, supported by the Italian cooperation - chose to accompany the cocoa niche on the Costa Atlántida as this is where this crop is most exploited. The idea was to create a space for reflection where independent producers and associations find support from other actors that have a relationship with what they do. Many producers suffer from poor farm and post-harvest management. But since the partnership began, they were able to expose these weaknesses and others responded. For example, staff from the Regional University Center of the Atlantic Coast (CURLA) from the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) became interested in designing training, open university classrooms for producers, and even created a specialized curriculum as an intensive cocoa diploma that is now offered to producers nationally and internationally.
In this way, those in the cocoa partnership seek to accompany each other to find solutions or alternatives to problems related to market access, product quality, post-harvest handling, storage infrastructure, product image, processing, financing, availability of technologies, and others. Producers dream of becoming influential players in export markets and to present a first-class product. For this, they have determined that organization opens opportunities for them to go forward. By improving their productivity of fine cocoa, they know that they will increase their profits. This will generate chances to improve production and their overall life quality. The process is also serving as an example for producers in other cocoa-producing areas like Olancho, Gracias a Dios and El Paraíso.
The partnership proposes building capacities in marketing strategies, cost of production analysis, administration and accounting, value addition, organizational legality, equipment and infrastructure such as collection and processing microcenters, undertaking a cocao census, and certification of timber lots. “CDAIS is strengthening the coordination between actors in the cocoa chain” explains Liliana Fernandez, a technician of the Directorate of Agricultural Science and Technology (DICTA). “It brings many benefits for all, including access to new information through training, sharing experiences between producers, understanding legal frameworks, and it helps to develop capacities in many other ways”.
“CDAIS has helped us to focus on our problems and look for our own solutions” said Blanca Garcia, of the Lancetilla association of artisanal women producers. “We attend CDAIS meetings because we want to strengthen ourselves and to find support to develop various projects, such as new markets for our products. In this space we relate to others and this helps guide us in how to obtain financing and infrastructure for a new factory with a cold room, and training for developing innovative products.”
“New knowledge from CDAIS benefits each of us and our municipalities, because we learn to take advantage of our strengths, and make more profit and generate employment for others in our families,” adds cacao producer Bernarda Moya. “CDAIS makes us take advantage of partnerships and thanks to that, today we have the support of organizations like Rainforest Alliance, Aprohcacao and others. We also have access to logistics, facilities and knowledge from the local university (CURLA). And how I wish all cacao producers in Honduras could also share this knowledge!”
Linking with learning
“Before, knowledge remained in the classroom because there was no university-producer relationship” explains German Bulnes, professor of Agricultural Economics at the Regional University Centre of the Atlantic Seaboard (CURLA). “Then CDAIS came and raised the concern as to why our students did not participate in the field. Now they get involved, they learn together with producers, and their education has been enriched by field experiences and sharing knowledge.” Evangelina Trejo, head of the liaison department added that “CDAIS helped show us the need to work in cacao and strengthen ourselves. This project is important because it made us reach out to the many cocao growers around us. And because of this opening, we designed a new diploma in cacao production within agroforestry systems, which made us reflect on our teaching skills, improving our educational offers, bringing new knowledge to communities and reinforcing our strategic alliances.”
José Ruiz, a support facilitator of the cocoa niche from CURLA, emphasizes the new-found motivation amongst producers since CDAIS started. “Producer organizations always come to each meeting they are invited to, talking about their experiences as farmers and cooperatives, and the importance of working together to improve their plantations, product quality and sales. And the new links with the university is a new experience for producers, because no organization showed any interest in their development until now. The associations understand that they don’t receive funding or material things but are very happy to have new knowledge in processes for strengthening their organizations, improving governance, and plantation management.
“CDAIS offers us so many things! It brought us an IFAD workshop on increasing the profitability of our cocoa cultivation where I learnt such a lot. It also opened doors with the university [CURLA], and their new diploma is great, being adapted to our time availability. Now I produce better cacao, know how to prune my trees, and use local waste for organic fertilizers” says Oscar Cerna, member of the Pico Bonito association.
The cacao coaching plan
The reflection and revision of the coaching plan workshops during 2017 and 2018 allowed the innovation partnership to agree the focus of training, based on producers’ needs. At each meeting, they reviewed past work and the effectiveness of commitments, and made readjustments to future plans where considered necessary. Coaching includes training on improving production through use of organic fertilizers, fiscal regulation, financing, certification of agroforestry system, needs of the chocolate market, value addition, and bar code registration. Cacao producer Bernarda Moya speaks positively about the results. “The workshops and training have raised awareness of our issues and what we need to do to deal with them. But importantly, they have shown that our goals are achievable”. She adds, “The most beautiful thing is that everything that has been captured comes from a consensus of everyone’s views. Nothing is imposed – it is just a continuation of the reality that we live.” During the latest meeting in April 2018, support facilitator José Ruiz from the university concluded that important resolutions were agreed, prioritizing training on organic fertilization for example, as traders and exporters are demanding this. “Furthermore, it was agreed that we will present proposals to Rainforest Alliance and the Business Development Centre for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises to join our cocoa partnership niche.”
“My involvement with the CDAIS process allowed me to see the importance of organizational issues, and so I have opened the association to more producers”, says Sergio Segovia, president of ASOPROCCAN, an association of 40 cacao producers in the El Cangrejal basin, but that now aggregates other associations with more than 300 producers in all. “We have plans to establish micro-pre-drying processing centres and a larger secondary centre for drying but also to extract cocoa oil, that is easy to produce and with ready markets in Central America, Canada and the Netherlands.”
“CDAIS enriches our mind. In the mountain we collect four ingredients, for producing organic compost, but the ‘secret’ fifth ingredient is the one that CDAIS helps us to strengthen” Oscar Cerna, cacao farmer and member of the producer association of Pico Bonito, San Francisco, Atlántida.
Prepared by: Miriam Villeda, communications officer of the Department of Agricultural Science and Technology (Dirección de Ciencia y Tecnología Agropecuaria (DICTA), in partnership with CDAIS Honduras; Erick Ordoñez, national innovation facilitator for the cacao partnership.