A delicious cup of hot chocolate and the promise of a better life enticed Teresa Cho to join a women-led chocolate producers’ group supported by our grantee partner, ProPetén.
For the members of ProPetén’s cacao communities in northern Guatemala, cacao provides an alternative to traditional subsistence and low-value agriculture focused on corn and beans that has become more difficult due to extreme weather and deforestation. ProPetén provides the Q’eqchi Maya farmers with technical assistance in sowing, harvesting, and selling cacao—a product with high demand both locally and internationally. These farmers have learned how to prepare the soil, make and use organic fertilizer, avoid infestations, and strategically locate shade plants to protect cacao seedlings from the harsh sun. With IAF and ProPetén support, they also now have the fermenters, dryers, and storage facilities necessary to process the cacao for sale in their home communities of La Compuerta, Poité Centro, and San Lucas Aguacate.
In a region where indigenous leadership of an export enterprise is rare, and indigenous women’s leadership is even rarer, ProPetén is committed to training its Q’eqchi’ cacao producers in the skills they need to succeed in a complex marketplace. ProPetén’s training sessions are grounded in respect for the Q’eqchi’ manner of community organization and delivered in the Q’eqchi’ language. Community members have expressed satisfaction with how, unlike other organizations, ProPetén provides technical guidance without imposing its will. ProPetén provides training in Spanish, business administration, and financial management for its members.
Becoming Chocolateras to Generate Income
ProPetén and the community-level cacao associations also incorporate women at all levels of the decision-making process and have created jobs for Teresa and other women in processing and selling chocolate. By controlling more links on the supply chain (not just growing raw cacao, but preparing and selling chocolate as a value-added product), the women can earn a higher profit and use that profit to sustain their working capital fund. Whereas before many were completely dependent on their parents or husbands, women can now generate their own income to purchase clothing, medicine, and food for their children. They are also able to work with the local government in community development projects to benefit all of the women. For example, the committee of women chocolatiers from the San Lucas Aguacate community organization has been working on projects related to access to water resources.
The communities’ investments in cacao are just now bearing fruit (literally) as the plants mature. They produced more than 28,000 pounds of cacao from 2019’s harvest, bringing in about $11,000 U.S. dollars—and reserves of dried cacao that brought in another $4,000 in 2020. The revenue was split among 75 families approximately. Earnings ranged between $150 and $1,200 during the cacao harvest (February to June), depending on the cocoa production areas that each producer owns, which vary from 0.5 to 3 hectares. These earnings represent hope and reduce median poverty in an area where almost half of the population lives on less than $2 a day and even basic food security can be a challenge.
What has this meant for individual cacao producers in the country with the 6th highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world? It’s providing women who bear the brunt of the burden of feeding families with an income. Teresa helped process more than 300 pounds of chocolate this season, which her association from Poité Centro sold to restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops. She worked as a teacher with the local municipality in 2019, earning $200. With her cacao production, she earned an extra $150. That’s enough to buy five chickens, an amount that will make a significant difference in her family’s income and food security. People like Teresa have improved their homes with their cacao earnings, exchanging wood planks and guano for cinder block and tin roofs. Women are also using the earnings to go to the doctor and take care of their health. The impact is even greater for the people filling the jobs ProPetén has created in its processing centers, who earn four times the average wage in the area.
Growing, Learning, and Earning
According to Rosa Irene Contreras, ProPetén’s executive director, “We have learned a lot through this project. We are very grateful to the IAF. When you talk about projects you always know that there is a beginning and an end. Almost all projects are short-term, which makes it hard to have a real impact. However, the IAF has supported us by funding a real process. The project began in 2011 and we are in the year 2020. The IAF has allowed us to develop the whole cocoa value chain, from production (getting supplies, making the nursery, planting), to harvest, processing, and commercialization, all done by our women’s network. At the beginning it was very difficult. People did not believe in cacao so easily. Some sowed immediately; others did not trust it much. In the third or fourth year of production, people realized how valuable it was. In ProPetén, we consider this our star project. All this has taken us several years, and it has been thanks to the constant support of the IAF.”
And they’re just getting started. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, they are on track to sell their entire 2020 harvest. With a new partnership recently launched with a U.S.-based chocolate company, Cru Chocolate, the future is looking sweet for these producers.