Cocoa: income and new prospects for Indigenous community

“When you really want something and believe in yourself, you strive to make your dreams come true. We are excited to keep improving the quality of our cocoa, with the support and training that we are getting,” says Chief José Mopiraneme Suruí, of the Mauira village.

As one of the leaders of the Paiter Suruí people from the Sete de Setembro Indigenous Land, in the state of Rondônia, Mopiraneme attended several training programs on how to boost cocoa production in his community. They are betting on cocoa as an alternative source of income for families due to an increase of market interest in the raw material for chocolate production.

In 2015, a fire destroyed their plantation, the community started working with cocoa, with the support of Forest Trends. The few surviving plants were used for seeds. This initiative, which started with Mopiraneme and 12 other Paiter Suruí producers in the village eventually became a project known as Our Forest, Our Home – Tupi Mosaic (Nossa Floresta, Nossa Casa – Mosaico Tupi). 

“A few years ago, my community had no support. But now Forest Trends provides material and training, and CEPLAC also supports us – which is very encouraging. We now have a vision of the future, and keep growing," adds Mopiraneme. The Executive Committee for Cocoa Cultivation Planning (CEPLAC) is a Brazilian government organization that supports the development of the cocoa production chain.

Originating in the Amazon, native cocoa has sensory (organoleptic) properties, which are specific characteristics of pure substances and foods, and can make a huge difference in the final product. The cacao plantations have contributed to forest conservation, as it is planted together with native vegetation in Agroforestry Systems on degraded areas. 

Cocoa pods grow attached to the trunk of the cocoa tree, and harvesting is done manually with the help of a cacao pruner (a specific tool to cut the plant). The kernels found inside the pods are the main raw material for chocolate. 

“We are seeking to add value to sustainable chains in Indigenous communities, so as to promote forest conservation and a source of income for local people. One of our goals is to strengthen the governance of these chains and help to place their products on the market,” says Carlos Silva, Forest Trends adviser. 

According to Silva, the idea is to expand training initiatives to other Indigenous Lands, such as Rio Branco. "We also want to involve young people in this process," he says.

Forest Trends environmental engineer Cairã Andrade recalls that the action has also sought to involve businesses to facilitate the placement of sustainable products in the market, increasing the value paid to traditional producers – one of the pillars of Nossa Floresta

They have been working with De Mendes Chocolates Amazônicos, a company created by chocolatier César De Mendes, who uses native cocoa in partnership with local producers and traditional communities. Born in Macapá, De Mendes is the son of a quilombola mother, while his father came from a riverine community. He is a strategic commercial partner, who is involved in the process of training Paiter Suruí producers under the Nossa Floresta, Nossa Casa project.

In addition to De Mendes Chocolates Amazônicos, Forest Trends has other partners in the private sector, such as European fine chocolate company Original Beans. The goal is to diversify the access of Indigenous economic initiatives to high-end markets. 

Next steps – Mopiraneme says he now wants to raise funds to purchase an irrigation system to maintain the quality of their production.

According to Forest Trends, they also have plans to build new facilities for fermenting and drying the kernels.

More information on FT is available here and on De Mendes here (in Portuguese). 

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