From October 12-15, 2018, Cacao Forest project partners literally gathered together in the fields of the Dominican Republic. Meeting face to face offered them the chance to exchange ideas and discuss their thoughts on how to move forward by providing the project with greater national exposure.
Since Cacao Forest started in 2016, this is the first time project partners have met together at the plantations. It is just as important for key stakeholders in Europe to meet with farmers to measure project progress, as for the Dominican cooperatives to understand why chocolate companies and artisan pastry chefs from the other side of the Atlantic invest in a project to develop innovative models for sustainable cocoa farming.
Seeing project progress firsthand
This trip offered the chance to meet with the cocoa farmers who are members of the project’s partner cooperatives (Fundopo and Conacado). It also allowed members of the steering committee to visit several active cocoa plantations to see for themselves the aging orchards and Dominican cocoa farmers. In addition, steering committee members toured several parcels of an experimental participative network (EPN) that is currently testing four innovative agroforestry models for growing cocoa trees. These parcels, put in place between April and September 2018, rely on cultivating a wide variety of other plants, trees, and crops alongside the cocoa tree that also have value and produce food for local markets.
Traveling to the Dominican Republic also provided the opportunity to meet with the companies that process some of the fruits grown alongside the cocoa trees: sapodilla, mango, papaya, etc. Managing the biodiversity created to improve the ability of Dominican cocoa tree plantations to generate a diversified, sustainable, and continuous source of revenue throughout the year is one of the cornerstones of the Cacao Forest project in the Dominican Republic. This is the main focal point in the work conducted by CIRAD (The French Agricultural Research Center for International Development) for our project. The Earthworm Foundation team also continues to look for market opportunities for the crops harvested through farmed biodiversity. The foundation provides support to farmers in structuring existing distribution channels and in creating new channels for crops grown in cocoa tree based agroforestry systems.
Round table discussions: assessment and perspectives
In conjunction with the plantation visits, Maria Rey de Arce, the local coordinator for the Earthworm Foundation, organized two events:
· A seminar presenting a progress report covering the first two years of the project in the Dominican Republic and one year after the end of the first phase. All public and private Dominican institutions involved in the cocoa industry attended the seminar (the Ministry of Agriculture’s cocoa department, the National Cocoa Commission, the National Institute for Agricultural Research, the Ministry for the Environment and Forests, partnering cocoa farmer cooperatives…), as well as two major international development aid agencies (AFD, IDB), to provide the project with enough visibility at the national level to ensure it continues beyond phase 1 (2017-2019). During the seminar, the national and international partners present were able to provide their feedback on actions led and make suggestions for future prospects of the Cacao Forest project in the Dominican Republic. The round-table workshops supplied key information and the opportunity to discuss the feedback in detail.
· A two-day steering committee meeting was held right after the seminar. It created the framework to (i) develop a collective strategy and action plan for the 2020-2022 phase II of the project, (ii) to consolidate the 2019 budget to cover the teaching and training needs for research conducted by CIRAD, and (iii) to write a concrete action plan prioritizing the target countries for future Cacao Forest projects.
A friendly sharing of ideas
This trip included a gourmet dinner and friendly evening gathering, with demonstrations and pastry tastings by Relais Desserts pastry chefs to introduce local farmers to the wide variety of possible uses for cocoa. The dinner also proved extremely useful in highlighting the interdependence within the industry: to make gourmet pastries you need high-quality cocoa; you cannot grow high-quality cocoa without taking into consideration the local climate, environmental constraints, and the need for farmers to earn a respectable income for their beans.