Agriculture

Specialty cocoa

Big deal for small farmers from Peru

The Fairtrade-certified cocoa cooperative Acopagro is the biggest exporter of organically produced cocoa beans in Peru. It plans to continue its growth through improved production expertise and prefinancing from partners like responsAbility.
 

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Acopagro, based in Juanjuí in the Amazon region, has grown from 27 members in 1997 to 2,000 members making a decent living from cocoa cultivation today. It produces 5,200 t of organic and Fairtrade certified cocoa beans per year and has ambitious plans to meet growing demand from Europe and the US.

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Acopagro pays for monthly training by external agronomists. Members reach the “field school” in Pucacaca, in the Peruvian Amazon lowlands, by log boats. The school helps members optimize their yield and deliver consistent high quality.

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Teacher, Miguel Ángel Trujillo Valderrama, talks about sunlight, shade, fungi and pests - and, above all, cocoa: what the plant likes and doesn’t like, how much light it needs to thrive, and how and when it should be fertilized.

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Students apply what they’ve learned about active shade management and eagerly grab their cutlasses. Fewer leaves provide optimum conditions for premium cocoa. Much progress has been made in recent years but the potential for efficiency enhancements in this area remains enormous.

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Pamela Esquivel, the cooperative’s Sales and Export Manager, says Acopagro is carrying out a project to optimize the use of organic fertilizer and investing USD 1 million in loans to members. Tests show they can double the yield per hectare per year to 2,000 kg – a huge opportunity for producers.

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Acopagro continues to make advances in quantity and quality. Initially, it collected the cocoa beans that members had already processed. Today, it receives freshly harvested beans each week all year round and processes them in its own processing centers.

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Acopagro currently operates 70 processing centers and is adding more. Centralized processing with rigorous quality monitoring ensures consistently high quality. Specialty cocoa is becoming more popular and can sell at attractive prices of up to USD 1,000 per t above the global market price.

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Quality enhancement is addressing customers’ needs. In the past, organic production and Fairtrade certification were key. Now, producers are becoming increasingly demanding on acid and moisture content. They also want commodities from a single region of origin and a single type of cocoa.

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Javier Flores García, a member from Pucacaca, says work by Acopagro has helped establish cocoa growing as a respectable form of employment. Members receive training and funds to help pay for their children’s university studies. Cash from the Fairtrade premium is distributed among the members.

Cocoa growing, which UN programs fostered as an alternative to coca plant production back in the 1990s, has enabled farmers to break free from extreme poverty. The Fairtrade minimum price guarantees they can still sell their products at a fixed minimum price when global market prices take a plunge.

With financing from providers like responsAbility, Acopagro can buy cocoa beans from members immediately after the harvest and bridge the gap until their customers pay. Without funding, farmers would sell to wholesalers who pay less because they need the money right away.

See complete interview with Pamela Esquivel.

reponsAbility Investments AG is not an investor and does neither provide direct nor indirect financing. The mentioned investments in the specific markets, countries, companies, institutions, instruments, or sectors are exclusively transacted by the investment vehicles managed or advised by responsAbility Investments AG