The Dominican Republic is the leading exporter of Fair Trade, organic cocoa in the world--and a unique, high-quality type of cocoa is grown there. So we have a significant interest in sustaining the Dominican Republic cocoa supply chain.
In 2009, we set out to conduct research into the issues facing the cocoa-growing communities of The Dominican Republic. We had conducted similar research in Ghana and found that it gave us insights that allowed us to help in specific ways. This new report by Dr Amanda Berlan and Dr Ame Bergés encapsulates our findings.
The research indicated that while Dominican organic cocoa continued to grow in demand and to command premium prices over conventional cocoa, significant challenges were threatening its long-term sustainability. The four biggest challenges we’ve been tackling include: low productivity, an aging mostly male workforce; poor infrastructure, and inadequate disaster preparedness. Having made multiple trips there, I’ve had the opportunity to meet farmers and identify with the personal ways these issues affect their lives and the lives of those in their communities. Here is more about their unique challenges… and how we’ve approached these challenges as opportunities:
CHALLENGE: Low Productivity
Productivity was well below its potential. This was due to poor farming practices and a lack of funds to invest in higher quality seedlings. Furthermore, the seasonal nature of cocoa farming left many people in debt during the months they weren’t selling cocoa (the cocoa-selling season here is only 3-4 months long).
OPPORTUNITY: Training Farmers
We have organized demonstration plots where the farmers learn improved practices. You can see the effects of these trainings at the farm level—some yields have increased by as much as 30 percent. The trees are pruned, they’re not overly shaded, the weeds are cut back, there are more cocoa pods on the trees, and those pods are more evenly distributed. We are working with the communities to find additional sources of income, such as creating tourist trails so travelers can visit cocoa farms and eat local food.
CHALLENGE: An Aging Workforce
Based on the study, the average age of a Dominican Republic farmer was 58. A woman I met, in her late sixties, had to farm multiple hectares completely on her own. Young people were simply not going into cocoa production. Reasons given included financial insecurity, an absence of infrastructure, and lack of quality of life benefits (such as recreational centers) in cocoa growing communities.
OPPORTUNITY: Community Development and Empowering Women
By increasing productivity and teaching farmers better farming practices, cocoa farming is starting to become more interesting to a younger generation. Through internships at both the farm and organizational level, launched in partnership with the US Peace Corps, young people are turning to cocoa because they can see the revenue potential. Additionally women are becoming more active—attending trainings and speaking up. They have always been involved in cocoa but they were not previously recognized. Encouraging more women to become farmers could have a very positive impact on the future of cocoa in the Dominican Republic.
CHALLENGE: Poor Infrastructure
We discovered some key areas of infrastructure that needed to be addressed. For example: In the rainy season, poor roads and lack of bridges make it difficult or even impossible for children to get to school, farmers to transport cocoa to markets, and those in need to access medical care. Flooding and poor roads in particular contribute to feelings of anger, frustration, and helplessness in cocoa communities.
OPPORTUNITY: Improving Quality of Life in Farming Communities
This is perhaps one of the biggest areas of challenge since we are a food company and not community developers. However, we’ve found that we can work with government officials and non-government agencies to communicate the kinds of infrastructure improvements that can make a real difference. We’re beginning to see road and bridge repairs, and the current president is deeply interested in improving rural areas to better the lives of all kinds of farmers.
CHALLENGE: Inadequate Disaster Management
The Dominican Republic lies in the Caribbean hurricane belt. Farmers’ housing often cannot withstand the storms. Additionally, hurricanes have the potential to destroy many cocoa trees. Replanting is expensive, so some farmers either don’t replant, or replant with poor quality seedlings. Poor disaster preparation not only threatens the livelihoods and shelter of cocoa farmers and their workers, but can potentially disrupt the cocoa supply to international chocolate companies.
OPPORTUNITY: Establishing Disaster Preparedness Conventions
We have helped fund community centers that double as hurricane shelters in times of need. With regard to potential damage to trees during storms, as part of our training program we teach farmers how to rehabilitate and/or replant old or damaged trees with new and improved varieties.
A Multifaceted Strategy
For the past three years, we have invested £400,000 per year, for a planned period of eight total years, to improve the sustainability of cocoa in the Dominican Republic by enriching the lives of cocoa growers and their communities.
In order to ensure the long-term social and economic sustainability of the cocoa industry in the Dominican Republic, a multifaceted response is being implemented. Success hinges on the involvement of many groups throughout the value chain, including the Dominican Republic government, US Aid, Us Peace Corps, United Nations Development Program, The Inter-American Development Bank, international cocoa buyers, local communities, and the cocoa growers themselves. Our research is insuring that resources are focused on the most critical issues. This has been fundamental to the survival of cocoa farming and the livelihoods of all those involved in the production of cocoa from the Dominican Republic.