“At the beginning we suffered great hardship. There was no food, we couldn’t take the products to the market due to the license plate restriction imposed, we had to get up very early.” This is how Gabriela Ordoñez, producer of the Aromatic Agricultural Producers Association (ASOAROMATIC), narrates the beginning of 2020.
Although it was not easy at the beginning, she admits that putting her feet on the ground to adapt was fundamental and the support of the sector was indispensable. “Thanks to that, we survived the pandemic.”
According to the National Institute of Statistics and Census (INEC), cocoa is one of the crops to which the largest number of hectares are allocated in Ecuador. It represents 37% of the area planted in permanent crops. The cocoa sector contributes 5% of the national economically active population (EAP) and represents 15% of the rural EAP. Hence the importance for its cultivation and for taking immediate action to mitigate the ravages of COVID-19 in the value chain.
“Exercising proper hand washing, the use of alcohol, masks and biosecurity measures at home was fundamental. Also the project trainings, information through the media, through networks, the help provided with fumigations to disinfect homes, Covid-19 rapid tests and health brigades where the government collaborated,” Gabriela tells us.
She received support from the Program Maximizing Opportunities for Coffee and Cocoa in the Americas (MOCCA), through the National Association of Cocoa and Cocoa Exporters of Ecuador (Anecacao Asociación Nacional de Exportadores de Cacao e Industrializados del Ecuador (Anecacao), a partner of Rikolto (program executor) in Ecuador.
Thanks to this support, she was able to continue training and sell quality cocoa to the market and work her farms, an indispensable task for the hard season ahead. “We continued our training on topics such as pruning, grafting, but also on protocols to avoid transmission. We are grateful for the help that the sector, institutions such as Anecacao and programs such as MOCCA, sent us (food kits, hygiene, masks).”
Exports: stability in the midst of the crisis
Despite the global situation, cocoa was one of the products for which international demand remained relatively stable. According to Ecuador’s National Customs Service (SENAE), the country exported some US$700 million in cocoa alone in 2019. In 2020, 325,000 metric tons were exported, representing US$850 million. A figure that exceeded expectations in the midst of the pandemic.
For Anecacao and its director Merlyn Casanova, exports were one of the variables that allowed small national producers to weather the storm. “Approximately 50,000 producers are members of ANECACAO through our 32 associates. This situation guaranteed them that quality production and cocoa exports go hand in hand and that they are sustained over time, despite adversities.”
A challenge that the guild faced was the promotion and massive adoption of biosafety protocols. This change had to be experienced throughout the chain, while continuing to promote quality production for the international market. “During 2020, the MOCCA program made an important contribution by promoting the continuation of producer training with access to the Cacao Móvil platform and workshops with international cocoa specialists,” says Merlyn.
Thanks to MOCCA’s support, Anecacao held 69 workshops on cultivation techniques throughout 2020, reaching 644 producers. As part of the conferences, experts from Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, USA and several European countries exchanged knowledge with producers in the chain.
Distance actions and interest from the sector
Casanova admits that at the beginning it was thought that distance training would be complicated due to the limited access to technology of some producers. But the mechanism structured thanks to Lutheran World Relief (LWR) and Rikolto, within the MOCCA framework, was important in overcoming this difficulty. “Thanks to the training mechanism that was structured with producers, more contact became feasible. Safety protocols were communicated to our partners through networks and the media, so that they could facilitate this to their producers, and a group of producers coordinated by partners was trained to be able to inform.”
Anecacao continued to promote the sector’s actions during the pandemic. Important incentives for producers such as contests and positioning campaigns for the sector were rethought in the digital context and promoted with the support of MOCCA and the Belgian Development Cooperation.
Casanova reports that Anecacao also managed, together with LWR (Cocoa leader for the MOCCA program), donations from international companies convened by the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) for the direct delivery of almost 3,000 food and biosafety kits. It recognizes that the entire chain came together to meet the challenge.
The success of exports attracted the attention of national institutions, which added even more support. “The potential of the sector was revealed, attracting the attention of the public sector, resulting in new credit alternatives, opportunities for the development of training plans, etc.” Today, MOCCA helps capture that interest, in agreement with the financial institutions CAC Jardín Azuayo, CAC Futuro, CAC Hermes Gaibor, INSOTEC Foundation and BanEcuador-Ministry of Agriculture of Ecuador (MAG) to provide access to credit at preferential rates to cocoa producers who are also participants in the program.
Anecacao, with the MOCCA Program, is driving its members´ efforts towards exportable quality cocoa, through a unifying message for its chain and producers. “It is more complicated to meet requirements when everyone goes their own way. Supporting each other is the best way to achieve this,” Casanova explains. She adds that the bean must inspire joint solutions. “The focus should be on offering cocoa that meets the expectations of demanding customers, through innovation in production and post-harvest processes. More small producers need to partner for this.”
Know why “Cocoa is more than a grain”
An Anecacao campaign with the support of MOCCA in times of pandemic.