Toledo Cacao Growers Association and Grupo Conacado: Cocoa Farmers Making a Difference

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With chocolate making there is a lot of experimenting from how the beans are grown, through fermentation to how they are roasted, refined and conched. Sometimes experiments fail – but sometimes they lead to even better things. In 1985, during a downturn in the global cocoa market, a group of cocoa farmers in the Dominican Republic decided to experiment with one of the most important factors in chocolate making – fermentation. Little did they know that what they were doing would turn around the fortunes and the finances of a small but growing group of farmers within their now-expanding co-operative.

Up until the point at which the experiment began, cocoa beans grown in the Dominican Republic were sold unfermented to the US. This factoid explains a lot about chocolate from south of the border during my childhood (*kidding* – it’s used for cocoa butter, not chocolate). This is known as Sanchez cocoa which is kind of cute. Hispaniola cocoa undergoes a controlled fermentation process. Fermentation is a key part of the chocolate making process when developing flavours in the bean itself. Too much fermenting, the chocolate tastes bad, turned too often, the chocolate tastes… crazy. Not fermented enough, bad flavour. To produce the finest quality of Hispaniola beans, the cocoa fruit is fermented for 5 to 7 days in wooden crates. The Grupo CONACADO were the FIRST in the Dominican Republic to produce this Hispaniola cocoa.

It’s crazy to think that they only started making this Hispaniola cocoa in 1985 as an experiment during a downturn in the price in cocoa. Had the global price for cocoa not dropped, we might not have this gorgeous red fruit cocoa with a light acidity which absolutely comes out in the Green & Blacks dark chocolate. Had things played out differently, the DR might still be selling cocoa butter beans to the US and we may not have any beans for chocolate from this amazing region.  We should be grateful that CONACADO decided to experiment with fermentation. Given they have been growing cacao for long enough there are records of them trading with Mexico and Mayans, high quality fermented cacao is extremely modern.

In addition to being Fairtrade, the Hispaniola cocoa commands a higher price because of the quality being produced. CONACADO and its members have taught farmer’s groups how to improve the quality of their plantations and their harvests and in doing so, how to increase their earnings to improve living condition and better their housing. CONACADO also returns profits to its members. At the end of the harvest season, our growers receive more than 90% of the global market price. Therefore, less cocoa farmers abandon their properties every year. This reinforces rural and community infrastructure development and has an impact on the preservation and conservation of the nearby forests.

Green & Black’s has also been buying organic cocoa from the Toledo Cacao Growers Association (TCGA) farmer’s co-operative in Belize since 1994. Green & Black’s founders, Craig and Jo, started the relationship with the farmers in Belize which continues today. With Green & Black’s investment into the TCGA with rolling five year contracts and fair market price for cocoa this allows the farmers to benefit from rises in cocoa prices and ensures they have the security in case the market price falls. The fair price, long term contract and community investment the TCGA receive from Green & Black’s give them economic security and enable them to plan for the future for their families and community including education for their children. As a result of the investment in TCGA the cocoa farmers are able to sell more high quality organic cocoa beans and increase their income.

CONACADO and TCGA are both making a massive difference in the lives of farmers as have Green & Blacks having invested in a new fermentation house and irrigation channels for farmers. Farmers are getting more money for their fine cacao and their organic cacao, encouraging the next generation to stay with farming.

Several sources were used for this article including:

About Judith Lewis

Editor and chief blogger at Mostly About Chocolate. Expert SEO. judge at various chocolate awards, wine awards, and all the Search Awards. Judith is passionate about food, wine, and travel.

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