Supporting Ecuadorian cocoa farmers to sustainably increase cocoa yields


Supporting Ecuadorian cocoa farmers to sustainably increase cocoa yields

In this interview, Angela Gubser, Managing Director, Barry Callebaut Ecuador, describes how Cocoa Horizons has been successfully introduced to the world’s third largest producer of cocoa.
Angela Gubser Managing Director Barry Callebaut Ecuador
Angela Gubser, Managing Director, Barry Callebaut Ecuador

It might be surprising to some people that Ecuador is the third largest producer of cocoa behind Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Can you provide an overview of what cocoa farming actually looks like in Ecuador?

The picture of Ecuadorian cocoa farming is often portrayed with large, highly mechanized farms, however, the reality is that around 95% of cocoa farms are small to medium sized, family owned farms. To put this into context, a large farm is over 100 hectares, but in fact, the average size of a cocoa farm here is approximately 5 hectares. The average cocoa yield in Ecuador is higher than what we see on West African cocoa farms, and I am often asked why this is the case? Firstly, the main variety of cocoa grown here is different and produces a higher yield. Secondly, in general Ecuador is blessed with very good soil quality. My background is trading, I am certainly not an agronomist, nor do I have a particularly green finger, but everything in my garden here grows without much attention to its well being! 

Before we start talking about how you implemented Cocoa Horizons to local farmers, can you provide an overview of what Cocoa Horizons is? 

Cocoa Horizons is Barry Callebaut’s preferred vehicle to implement sustainability activities and improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers and their communities. To promote implementation of these activities, Barry Callebaut established the Cocoa Horizons Foundation as a means to scale impact and drive on-the-ground change in cocoa growing communities through productivity, community and environmental activities. To put this into context, the premiums  generated from the purchase of Cocoa Horizons products generated CHF 17 million in funds last year, which was directly invested in Cocoa Horizons registered farms across the globe. The Foundation is already operational in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Cameroon, Brazil and Indonesia. It was a natural next step to commence the program here in Ecuador.

Cocoa Horizons focuses on activities to improve cocoa farmer prosperity and livelihoods. If cocoa yields in Ecuador are high compared to other cocoa growing regions in the world, what is the purpose of implementing Cocoa Horizons in Ecuador? How will farmers benefit? 

Our main purpose of introducing Cocoa Horizons is to improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers by increasing productivity and income, and to protect the environment. In terms of yield, we believe there is the potential for farmers to sustainably increase their yield and herewith their income. As I mentioned earlier, cocoa is grown almost exclusively by smallholder households and is their main source of cash income. As smallholder farmers are one of the most economically disadvantaged groups in Ecuador, the success of the cocoa industry here is definitely seen as critical to alleviating rural poverty. Offering training in Good Agricultural Practices, an integral part of Cocoa Horizons activities, has sparked a lot of interest from the farmers we are working with. They have told us they want to know more about the correct use of fertilizers and how to prevent disease. 

Knowledge on using the right fertilizer, the right amount and at the right time, can help improve productivity. Further, and a critical point, as part of Forever Chocolate we are committed to becoming carbon and forest positive by 2025. Therefore growing more cocoa on existing farm land also reduces the risk of deforestation of protected areas. 

The success of the cocoa industry here is definitely seen as critical to alleviating rural poverty.

So how many farmers are participating in Cocoa Horizons and how did you manage to roll this out during COVID-19? 

The first step was to map and register the 304 farmers, some of whom have multiple farm plots, that are participating in Cocoa Horizons. The reason we do the mapping is to determine the geographic information of the farm, for example, the size, density of cocoa trees, details of other crops being grown. To undertake the mapping we partnered with a local start-up business Visión Geográfica to use drone technology. Working with this team was excellent, we reduced the amount of people needed on the ground to undertake face-to-face ‘manual mapping’, which was an important consideration due to COVID-19, yet at the same time we were able to support a local growing business.  

It was also a great learning experience for the farmers. For the first time, they could see their farms from aerial view, they could visualize the density of their crops, see the size of their farms and how the potential for increased yield might look. 

While undertaking the farm mapping, we used the opportunity to speak to the farmers about the risks of COVID-19. We distributed hygiene packs, which included cocoa butter soap sourced from another local cocoa exporter. For me, working with the local community is something I truly value. Beyond the Barry Callebaut family here and the work we do with farmers and our suppliers, I think working with as many local businesses as possible is important. 

Farm mapping was undertaken by drone technology
Farm mapping was undertaken by drone technology
Our recent groundbreaking ceremony for our new state-of-the-art cocoa facility, in addition to our implementation of Cocoa Horizons, shows how committed we are to investing in Ecuador.
Farmers COVID-19 information packs
Farmers also received COVID-19 information packs

Now that the farm mapping is finalized, what’s next? 

In the next 12 to 18 months, we want to expand Cocoa Horizons here in Ecuador. Simply put, we want to introduce even more farmers to Cocoa Horizons. We have already commenced the consultation process with the farmers to discuss their specific needs. Together, we have worked to develop tailored Farm Business Plans, which give the farmers specific advice on the best mix of seedlings and fertilizers and training to help take their farms to the next level. 

We have also commenced training programs and cocoa seedling distribution. Soon we will also distribute native trees. The cocoa seedlings and native trees have a harmonious relationship: the cocoa seedlings provide farmers a helping hand to replace older trees or increase the general volume of cocoa trees on their farm, and the trees are interplanted between cocoa seedlings and can increase biodiversity at farm-level. 

Overall, despite the challenges of COVID-19, it has been a very exciting year for Barry Callebaut Ecuador. We have just had the groundbreaking ceremony for our new state-of-the-art cocoa facility, this foundation for growth, in addition to our implementation of Cocoa Horizons here, shows how committed we are to investing in Ecuador. Reflecting on the work we have done here in 2020, makes me immensely proud of my team and what we have achieved.

cocoa seedlings for farmers
Cocoa Horizons farmer Nélida Morán Reyes, receives new cocoa seedlings to add to her existing cocoa farm and is soon to start training in Good Agricultural Practices.
Taryn Ridley

Taryn Ridley

Working as Lead, ESG Integration and Communications in the Corporate Communications team of Barry Callebaut. Native Australian, but loves living in the land of the Toblerone. Passionate about a range of sports, nature and travelling.

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