A woman is picking cocoa beans.
© Gabriel Vanerio, WWF


Savouring chocolate, saving the forests

Cocoa is highly sought after as the raw material for chocolate – and demand for it is increasing. Cooperatives in Ecuador are cultivating cocoa without destroying forests.

Nely Monar is certain: ‘Cocoa is the greatest delicacy of all!’ Many others share the view of this 20-year-old from Ecuador – in Germany alone, average consumption per person is two-and-a-half bars of chocolate every week. That adds up to just under 13 kilograms a year.

Much of the cocoa that forms the basis for this is not produced sustainably. Producers clear forests to create areas for cultivation. Even in Ecuador, where cocoa is mainly grown using eco-friendly methods, 12 per cent of the country’s forests were replaced by fields between 2008 and 2015. In contrast, the traditional ‘chakras’ system used by Ecuador’s indigenous population offers an alternative approach. Up to 100 different crop plants are cultivated on small plots of one to two hectares, without destroying the forest. Cocoa, coffee and vanilla are some of the crops grown. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH supports these ‘forest gardens’ in different parts of Ecuador in cooperation with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Young women collecting cocoa fruit.

Nely Monar runs a cocoa cooperative in the Napo region of the Amazon. She is a member of the indigenous Kichwa community. For Monar, it is important that everyone benefits from the cooperative. ‘We run a shop to give a helping hand to local entrepreneurs,’ she says, ‘and we support women in particular in increasing their incomes.’ Among the buyers of the fine cocoa is the German candy producer Storck.

The traditional cultivation methods in the forest gardens have a positive effect not just on nature but also on the quality of the chocolate. Ecuador is the main producer of fine cocoa – a variety with a more subtle, fruitier taste than standard cocoa. Nely Monar has no doubt of its superior quality: ‘Our chocolate is in a different league from industrially produced chocolate!’

The project run by WWF and GIZ supports three cooperatives in Napo with a total of 850 members. Thanks to its work, 500 of these are already growing organic produce. The project supports the cooperatives in cultivation, production and marketing.

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