I am working on a project for Conservacion y Desarollo (CyD) here in Ecuador. The project is related to physical, chemical and organoleptic analysis of Ecuadorian cacao. There are 11 growers associations from various regions of Ecuador participating in the project. INIAP (instituto nacional de investigaciones agro-pecuarios) is also involved in the project and we are using their cacao laboratory in Quevedo. INIAP is akin to the dept. of agriculture.
My first assignment was to head to Guayaquil to a presentation of cacao processing machinery put on through the Italian embassy on the 16th of December 2009. It was in some ways disappointing. Basically the presentation was a sales pitch for large industrial Italian machines complete with various bank representatives who would eagerly provide financing. Most of the equipment was for large scale industrial enterprises and out of the reach of most of the growers associations. There is a lack of availability of machines for smaller scale processing. This is an opportunity that equipment manufacturers are overlooking. At any rate the event was worthwhile and I did meet some interesting people.
After the event I visited some farms and centros de acopia (collection centers where fermentation and drying take place) and spent a few days discussing post harvest techniques and cacao in Ecuador in general.
I then spent the last week and a half of 2009 travelling up the coast of Ecuador visiting small beach towns before getting back to work in January.
I was happy to have had the chance to meet Jeff from Aequare Chocolates in Quito, Ecuador. We came in contact with eachother through Thechocolatelife, arranged to meet up at his shop and spent an afternoon sampling his delicious creations and discussing cacao, chocolate and Ecuador. Since then he has been helpful with advice and putting me in contact with other people in the cacao world here in Ecuador. I hope to visit with him again when I go back to Quito and am also sending him samples of the different batches of cacao licor that we are making in the cacao lab.
Next I was sent to spend a week with a growers association in Vinces, Ecuador. The association, APOV (associacion de productores organicos de Vinces), is one of the smaller associations involved in the project. There are approximatly 250 member producers, the majority of which have less than 10 hectares under cultivation. APOV is working in unison with the Universidad de Guayaquil and there are several students doing cacao related studies with them. I spent the week getting to know the people involved and helping to improve their fermentation and drying processes. APOV faces several obstacles including a shortage of resources to invest in infrastructure. Also, they are at peak harvest time in terms of quantity and are working hard. We did several tests batches of fermentation, experimenting with various influencing factors such as time, quantity, and technique. The samples from those tests are drying as I type this and I´m looking forward to analysing the results.
After my time with APOV I returned to Quevedo and experimental farms and cacao laboratory at the INIAP center. INIAP has recently renovated and refurbished the cacao laboratory.
February 2010 has been a busy month thus far and I have been visiting growers associations in the Bolivar, Orellana and Sucumbios provinces of Ecuador. At each association I meet with the administrative staff and visit centros de acopio where the post harvest processes (fermentation, drying, sorting by size and storage) are carried out.
This month I´ve visited the associations CORAGRICACE, UCOCS, and San Carlos. The associations are at differing levels of development. Some have good infrastructure and good post harvest processes in place (fermentation, drying, traceability). Fermentation is one of the key post harvest processes we are looking at and providing consultation and capacity building, helping to implement good fermentation techniques.
Some of the associations have certification as organic, fairtrade, and/or Rainforest Alliance while others have no certifications or are in the process of getting certifications. There is a wide range of feeling about certification programs among the growers associations and the burden of payment for certification and annual recertification.
I am currently writing association profiles that associations can use to promote themselves and find markets for their cacao and/or other products. The associations involved in this project are:
-APOV. (Asociacion de Productores Organicos de Vinces) in the Los Rios province.
-Buena Suerte. Guayas Province.
-Fedecade. (Federacion Nacional de Productores de Cacao del Ecuador). Guayas Province.
-UCOCS. (Union Cantonal de Organizaciones de Participacion por la Justicia del Canton las Naves) Bolivar province.
-San Carlos. Orellana Province.
-Miss Ecuador. Sucumbios Province.
-Forteleza del Valle. Manabi Province.
-COCPE. Esmeraldas Province.
-APROCA (Asociacion de Productores de Cacao Organico del Canton Atacames.) Esmeraldas Province.
-Eloy Alfaro. Esmeraldas Province.
These associations represent a large geographical area of Ecuador. As I continue to get to know the associations and the people involved I will add to the profiles I am writing. If anyone is interested in learning more and/or getting in contact with the associations I will send you the profiles and help connect you directly.
We are still in the early stages of this project and are doing analysis of cacao, later this summer we will be processing the beans and making chocolate which the individual growers associations will then use to promote their product and seek markets.