Ecuador: Two Years Spent Living and Working in the Land of Cocoa

Stefanie Streule next to a cocoa tree
By Stefanie Streule
 

At the beginning of 2017, I arrived in Ecuador and became immersed in the exciting world of cocoa. Since then I've been able to experience first-hand how cocoa is fermented and dried and also observe how the daily routine tasks are managed by the farmers and cocoa intermediaries and identify the challenges they must overcome.

While here, I've been working on a two-year research project run by the ZHAW (https://www.zhaw.ch/en/lsfm/institutes-centres/ilgi/biotechnology/) and supported by the Lindt Chocolate Competence Foundation. The project focuses intensively on the post-harvest processing of cocoa at selected locations in Ecuador.

Over 18 months, we were able to gather extensive experience and gain insights about the fermentation and drying process. All of these results were then implemented into the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program for the final project phase. We also receive assistance from the local Olam office, which is a globally active agri-business.

During the final stage of the project I had the opportunity to train 10 cocoa intermediaries with around 470 cocoa farmers in conjunction with a feasibility study. It was an extremely interesting experience to visit the cocoa farmers as part of the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program and also have the chance to provide them with training. It was a true pleasure for me to pass on knowledge and sense the interest on the part of the farmers.

These training courses, which were divided into theoretical and practical sessions, were held at very diverse locations in Ecuador and under a wide variety of conditions, such as on the street, in a field or at a cocoa intermediary’s set-up where cocoa was in the process of being dried. Both the farmers and I had to concentrate fully on the task at hand so as not to be distracted by the surrounding noise. However, we managed very well with a Lindt chocolate bar to give us a small boost of energy. The knowledge transfer was reciprocal, and I was able to learn how the farmers turn the cocoa into a chocolate drink. The highlight of the practical training was a homemade cocoa liquor tasting session in which we could combine both theory and practice. All of the cocoa farmers had the chance to win a Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program t-shirt by answering questions correctly. As a bonus, at the end of the training course each cocoa farmer was able to take home special gunny sacks provided by the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program. These can be used specifically in the cocoa bean fermentation process.

Kakaosäcke aus Ecuador
Cocoa sacks for the farmers in Ecuador

I'd like to tell you about two people I was able to visit frequently as part of the project and also privately with family and friends.

Pepe, a cocoa intermediary in Flavio Alfaro, Manabí, in the country’s north, is passionate about the cocoa business. I met him two years ago and have been able to visit him several times since. One day I noticed a new dryer sitting at the back of his property. He proudly showed me his new equipment : a yellow dryer with “Lindt” and the “Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program” logo painted on it in big letters. Funded by the Program, this dryer enables him to dry large amounts of cocoa beans even during the rainy season, thereby avoiding the danger of mold formation. When you are with Pepe, you can sense not only his tremendous motivation and desire to optimize post-harvest processing but also how very important a good relationship with the farmers is to him. It's evident that he really lives by the motto “Together we can achieve something”. This was further demonstrated by the fact that he reserved a time slot with Radio Milenio (regional radio station in Flavio Alfaro) before the training sessions. We talked in front of the microphone about the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program, the Program's content, conditions for membership, project presentation and training. Pepe also created some publicity for us and invited more farmers and even the entire village to take part in the training. On the day of training Pepe welcomed the farmers personally and encouraged them to listen attentively. Yes, Pepe is definitely pouring his heart and soul into this project, and I'm always so happy to visit him and see his complete dedication to his business and the Program.

Kakaogeschäft in Ecuador
Heart and soul for cocoa

Roman José is a proud cocoa farmer from the area around Duran, Guayas, and he also talks enthusiastically about his cocoa-growing activities. I've been able to visit him several times as well. When my family and some friends from Switzerland accompanied me, he was very pleased and excited to show them not only his “finca”, or farm, but also the equipment he received from the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program. These tools assist him and make his daily field work easier, which also results in increased cocoa productivity. It really is a joy to witness his strength, satisfaction and motivation.

in the cocoa field
Increased productivity on the farms

There's so much more that I could share with you, but I hope, nevertheless, that I've been able to give you a small glimpse into the Ecuadorian world of cocoa. In summary, I would like to say that it's really good to see and find out first-hand what the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program has already achieved among the farmers and cocoa intermediaries and how its impact will most certainly continue to grow. And I'm very grateful to be a part of it all within the ZHAW project.

 

About the Author

Stefanie Streule

research assistant at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) and has been working for two years in Ecuador on a research project on the post-harvest process of cocoa.