FAO en Ecuador

Empowered cocoa producers access new markets in Ecuador

Carlos Pozo, President of the Kallari Association.

We are doing something wonderful here, we are protecting the Amazon rainforest, and we are producing sustainably and effectively. We are thinking about everyone, from our family to the whole world.” Carlos Pozo, President of the Artisanal Producers Association of Agricultural and Livestock Goods of Napo.

Cocoa residue found on ancient items in the Ecuadorian Southern Amazon region suggest that this plant has been present in local people’s diets and improved their wellbeing for over 5000 years.

Besides being the key ingredient of one of the world’s most popular treats, it is also an essential source of income for family farmers. Globally, approximately six million people depend on cocoa farming for their livelihoods.

In Ecuador, this is particularly true for communities native to the Amazon.

In this region, Kichwas indigenous peoples grow dozens of products on tiny parcels of land following the traditional Chakra production system. This system mimics the natural biodiversity of the forest within which it is practised, supporting trees and agricultural plants of many sizes and species. A single Chakra farm can support up to 80 plant species.

The Chakra system has been in use for hundreds and possibly thousands of years. The soils of the region where it is practised are still productive and the landscapes still teem with life. The immense diversity of produce means the system is ideal for healthy and sustainable diets.

The Kichwa peoples’ lands hum with biodiversity, yielding nutritious foods that have sustained families for generations.

Partnerships for better production

For many years, however, local cocoa producers faced challenges in accessing national markets, with much of their raw product directed for export only. They also struggled with decreasing cocoa productivity levels and extreme weather phenomena, which jeopardized their food security and incomes.

In the face of these challenges, the Artisanal Producers Association of Agricultural and Livestock Goods of Napo (Kallari) partnered with several programmes among which the Forest and Farm Facility (FFF) to find ways to increase the added value of their cocoa products and improve production techniques.

Kallari involves 21 local communities, engaging 1500 Kichwa families - a total of 5000 beneficiaries. The Kichwa families involved with Kallari maintain their biocultural heritage in the form of the Chakra agroforestry system. They are mainly engaged in agricultural activities both for commercial production and for food sovereignty and security purposes.

Over the years, Kallari has turned the Chakra traditional system into a market advantage. Its members  researched and promoted the advantages of the cocoa, guayusa and vanilla cultivated and grown under this traditional system, such as the unique characteristics of taste and smell, due to the special cultivation conditions. Because of this, Kallari has managed to position itself very well in the markets and its unique origin is recognized and valued at a national and international level.

“Kallari handles three very important products. The main one is cocoa. We also cultivate guayusa, an energizing ancestral drink, and vanilla, an orchid that is found in the forest. We have an organic certification and a fair-trade certification, and we have our own certification that is managed by the same organizations and producer families. It is the certification under the Chakra system”, said Carlos Pozo, President of the Kallari Association.

New techniques, new markets

To maintain and boost best practices, Kallari members undertook training in cooperative business skills, as well as guided sessions on the use of organic fertilizers.

As a result, Kallari developed new branding material for its processed products as well as a products catalogue linked to an online sales platform, which helped Kallari increase sales. It was also able to maintain its organic certification seal, an important advantage in the global cocoa market.


New Kallari products developed with FFF support

In addition, Kallari identified additional varieties of cocoa linked to the increased genetic diversity of the Chakra system to add to and replace old plantations. The new varieties not only added to the diversity of Kallari’s plantations, but also pleased local consumers with new chocolate flavours and helped the cooperative access Ecuador’s national market. Some of the new flavours include mango and passion fruit scented chocolate bars.

Today, the products offered by Kallari include cocoa beans, nibs, liqueur, butter, powder and many bars (with different concentrations and diverse flavours); truffles and chocolates; vanilla; guayusa; and handicrafts. By maintaining a broad range of products, such as chocolates with dried fruit from the same chakras, as well as seeds and dyes, Kallari improves the income of its members. This increases the value per unit of their land and helps to avoid the expansion of the agricultural frontier. The result is both forest conservation and better cultivation that help to generate income and serve to feed families.

With improved production techniques, Kallari was also able to restore 32 hectares of Amazonian chakra land with highly productive and disease-resistant native materials.

“Empowering the organization is the most important thing, it is what allows us to continue doing our work,” said Ruth Cayapa, leader of vanilla chain in Kallari Association.