Bolivia’s sweet new industry


How FAO is helping indigenous communities in Bolivia take the chocolate industry to the next level

Bolivia’s chocolate industry is thriving, thanks to indigenous and smallholder farmers growing cacao beans with support from FAO and its Forest Farm Facility partners. ©HELVETAS Bolivia

02/12/2019

In the Bolivian countryside an appetizing industry has taken off, bringing a sweet new business to rural communities: chocolate production.

When it comes to chocolate, Bolivia might not be the first place you think of yet - but thanks to the combined efforts of FAO, smallholder farming collectives and indigenous producers, it soon will be. Over the past five years, Bolivia’s chocolate producers have been quietly racking up the achievements and gaining global recognition for the quality of their products. They are now part of the 20 best cacaos in the world and these products have increased in value on the global market.

Indigenous peoples play a key role in Bolivia’s chocolate industry. Many of the local farmers and producers who make up large cacao farming cooperatives like the Confederation of Bolivian Producers and Collectors of Ecological Cacao (COPRACAO) and El Ceibo, which are both supported by the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF), are from indigenous communities. Not only do these cooperatives strengthen national recognition of indigenous famers but they also encourage a shift towards a more modern way of doing business and selling their products.
The FFF is a partnership between FAO, the International Institute for Environment and Development, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and AgriCord. This programme helps cooperatives access government funds and encourages a new mentality: local farmers working together to negotiate higher prices and boost income.

The role of indigenous farmers

To achieve better market prices, rural farmers organised themselves into small collectives, which are then represented by larger cooperatives. This helps avoid expensive intermediaries and improve market access. One such small collective benefitting from the FFF programme is the Sauces association. This association works with indigenous farmers from the Yuracaré and Moxeño communities in Bolivia’s Northern Indigenous Territory and Isiboro Sécure National Park, abbreviated to TIPNIS from the Spanish.

Left: The Guanay region of Bolivia where the cacao industry is thriving. ©FAO. Right: René Marquez, Chocolecos project manager, using the dryer, which dehydrates the cacao beans and gets them ready for production. ©FAO

A founding member of the Sauces association in 2006, Alina Flores Roca has always lived in this area. She and other members of the TIPNIS indigenous community created the collective with the aim of selling local products at higher prices in order to improve the income of local families, especially working women.

“We are happy with the FFF programme. It was the first time that we gained access to financing as an association… it has allowed us to access resources that will allow us as women to continue improving. We already have a tree nursery. Now we want to have a [cacao bean] dryer and to continue to improve the quality of our cocoa,” Alina said.

The FFF programme provides technical support and grants for both local collectives and individual farmers.

Leonardo Choque is part of the Leco indigenous peoples and Larecaja native community. In 2012, together with the Association of Cocoa Producers (Chocolecos), he started growing cacao, and he has seen an improvement in both the quality of his environment and his income.

“Through cacao, we have seen that we can protect our forest and biodiversity and help reduce global warming. Now we take care of our forest because we want our children to live well.”

However, Leonardo and his community still needed equipment support and technical assistance to improve quality and productivity. The Chocolecos Association president David Piloy, also a member of Bolivia’s Leco indigenous tribe, explained how FAO helped:

“With the FFF programme, we built a model nursery for seedlings and a warehouse for our products. This helps us maintain the quality of cacao - and in recent years, it has been considered among the best in the world!”

Jesús Camacho, José Luís Alfaro and Lucio Flores, tree nursery managers demonstrating how cacao trees grow in a tree nursery built with FFF funding. ©FAO

How has the chocolate industry grown?

In a real coup for Bolivia’s chocolate industry, the Chocolecos’ chocolate has won international recognition. With FAO’s support, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bolivia has since started a national competition to promote Bolivian cocoa. Chocolecos was among the winners of the first Cocoa and Chocolate Salon Bolivia in 2019, and went on, together with five other Bolivian producers, to represent Bolivian chocolate on the world stage at the Salon du Chocolat 2019 in Paris.

The partnership has also facilitated access to new markets. Thanks to a deal signed between FAO and Italian food service company, Autogrill, chocolate from El Ceibo’s indigenous producers can now be found on the shelves of participating Autogrill stores along highways, in airports and train stations throughout Italy.

Putting chocolate on the national agenda

The partnership with FAO has led to collaboration and dialogue with national and sub-national governments in Bolivia. Having a voice in government is often find difficult for indigenous and smallholder farmers to obtain. FAO collaborated with the Bolivian government and with representatives of Bolivian cacao producers to define the Cacao Production and Collection Support Programme, a national plan that aims to reinforce the systems of production. This also led to an investment by the government of USD 21.8 million. This money will strengthen cacao production across the country, benefitting 3 600 producers and boosting the production and quality of the product.

In Bolivia and in many other places across the world, indigenous communities are pillars of the agricultural sector. Empowering them to achieve their full potential through grants, access to new markets and policy dialogue is key to boosting rural livelihoods in a sustainable way, leading us one step closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.


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2. Zero hunger, 8. Decent work and economic growth, 15. Life on land