CHOCÓ CACAO COOPERATIVE: New Export Coop in NW Colombia
Organized by: SEAN A. HIGGINS
Here's the big news: we have been put in touch with a U.S. chocolate company by the good folks at our favorite NGO, TechnoServe.
March 17, 2016
These guys are the Best! > http://www.technoserve.org
March 10, 2016: Recently planted 60,000+ new cacao seedlings; have added hundreds of new vanilla plants -- still need much help with equipment of all sorts.
UPDATE! May 31, 2015: ¡Saludos! & Greetings! Look at us! Here we are: >"La Cooperativa Agro-Industrial de Productores Del Valle -- Del Municipio de Bahia Solano: 'COOAGROINDUVALLE' (The Chocó Cacao Cooperative) Con. Nit. Nº: 900683433-0" After more than two years of on-going, persistent effort, I have accomplished one of the goals I am most proud of attaining in my life. At the end of 2012 I resolved to return to Colombia in an attempt to organize a small regional cooperative devoted to the rehabilitation and propagation of small (under 10 acres) cacao farms, ideally supplanting and re-vitalizing land that had been taken hostage by cocaine Capos in the 70s and 80s. > Last week, the Colombian government's regional Office of Agriculture, located in the Chocó's capitol of Quibdó, awarded "official status" to the cooperative I've pulled together. In addition, the municipio (county) gave our 50 member families each one hectare (2.47 acres), land that washeld by the government after being confiscated from drug lords & their associates! It is worth noting that the majority of our members have not owned much in the past, certainly not titled land... So here we go!
I first came to Colombia in August, 2012 on an environmental project (ornithological) with the Wildlife Conservation Society. I had the opportunity to visit so many areas during my initial 4 months , from Cali and the Yotoco Forest to the cities of the North Coast, on to Santander & San Gil and all the way to the southernmost parts of this remarkable nation in Leticia, Amazonas and Sibundoy high in the Southern Andes of Putumayo. One large region I hadn't made it to was Colombia's "Forgotten Coast," the Pacific Coast, a region known as "El Chocó." The Chocó is the name given to the entire Pacific Coast, but is also the official name of the largest of Colombia's four 'departments' (or states). Almost immediately I found that the area had a history of cacao exportation -- tonnage -- for much of the 20th century. Then, in the late seventies, came the coca trade and cartels, leaving many people displaced or killed outright. Cacao exportation has remained dormant since the 1980s. Upon my return to the U.S. in early December I began an extensive study of the cacao industry, the global commodities markets, where Colombia fits in in terms of supply, quality, etc. I found that for annual year 2012 cacao was rated among the 5 most valuable commodities, ranked higher than gold. Gold. In addition there was a global shortage of ~200,000 tons of cacao for the chocolate, confectionary and allied industries. This shortfall is still a problem for chocolate producers: until recently seven African nations produced ~70% of the world's cacao. Civil war, plant disease and drought have wreaked heavy damage upon Africa's harvests. Even more recently, the Ebola crisis has further reduced West Africa's capacity to keep up. Since my return to Northwest Colombia in January, 2013, I've organized 36 families (50 actual dues-paying members) thus far into a government-recognized, chartered cooperative. In addition, we continue to negotiate to buy cacao and vanilla from three regional native-American settlements disinclined to join the cooperative, while we continue to clone, plant and harvest vanilla that we have propagated. We are in the process of getting certified for both organic and Fair Trade status, thus we pay significantly more than expected for cacao from the indigenous growers. A great deal of time and effort has been spent on simply taking inventory of the total number of trees already in production, the quantity of trees 1-3 years old (trees generally start to produce in their fourth to fifth year) as well as preparing land for new planting. What is important to know is that I've been utilizing a plan, or "curriculum," published by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization, a division of the United Nations) for the rehabilitation of existing plantations that have been left untended for an extended period of time. As it stands, there are over 50 member families, a few hundred hectares of cacao trees already in production, with many more hectares of land in the process of being prepared for planting. We have propagated over 78,000 new seedlings since February of 2013, most of which have been planted. A great deal has been accomplished over the past few months. The cooperative is poised to produce up to our first ton by the end of the year (2016), yet is in dire need of funding to continue developing infrastructure, providing efficient means of transport, all manner of tools and processing equipment, as well as pay for the most significant cost over the first three years of development and growth: manual labor. This also includes some costs for basic materials needed to go forward with vanilla cultivation and processing. The principal harvest for cacao runs from July through February. If we reach our goal here at 'gofundme,' $7500 should cover the cost of much-needed materials and manual labor for the two months of harvest -- and that would be a sweet start! -- Seán A. Higgins, May 31, 2015 * please take a moment and peruse the PDF included in this link: http://www.investincolombia.com.co/sectors/agribusiness/cocoa-chocolate-and-confectionary-goods-sector.html ** The curriculum I've utilized for the past two years: http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/organicexports/docs/OrganicCocoa_FFS_Guide.pdf