During the two-hour trip from Santo Domingo to San Francisco, I saw small towns, rice fields and a cocoa plantation. We were on our way to visit CONACADO’s cocoa processing factory. CONACADO is a cooperative and Oikocredit partner.
The visit began with a presentation to explain the current structure of the cooperative which is split-up into a credit union (COOPNACADO), an agribusiness (CONACADO Agroindustrial), and an NGO that provides technical assistance. CONACADO has around 10,000 members organized into associations. Several associations form a bloque (block). CONACADO has grown from two to nine bloques and currently exports around 14,000 tm3 of cocoa per year, representing 25% of the total cocoa export volume of the country.
The group was given a tour by Elizabeth Burgos who is in charge of quality control. Walking through the factory we saw where cacao butter, cacao liquor, pressed cake, cocoa nibs and cocoa powder is produced. Rafael Díaz, responsible for production and maintenance, showed us around the factory and gave me some roasted cocoa beans to try. They’re highly recommended!
San Francisco is only 45 kms from Nagua, but it takes more than 1 hour to get to Bloque 9. We had lunch there and met the board members of the bloque. With them, the group visited the facilities for fermentation and drying of the cocoa. There is also a COOPNACADO branch office there.
Hilario Bautista, a 20 year member of CONACADO, told me that “thanks to CONACADO we have learned to manage our cacao plantations and become more productive. At the end of the year the dividend comes ‘from the sky’”. With the additional income, the bloque has built a school, an aqueduct and roads.
Alfonso Domínguez’s cocoa plantation is located a few kilometres from the bloque’s facilities. He has grown cacao on his own land for about 40 years. He explained to me that it takes three years for a new plant to start producing cacao fruits. Growing cocoa is labour intensive. Mr Domínguez also plants bananas, passion fruit, zapote and other fruits to give shadow to the cacao trees. He picked a ripe cacao fruit and let me taste it.
It has been a long, but very interesting day. I followed the agri-processing business all the way down to the organic farmer and his cacao trees and at the end had a better understating about the complexity of the producing process before cocoa is ready for export.
I returned to the hotel with zapote and passion fruit that Mr Domínguez gave me. Overall it was a vibrant experience with a few mosquito bites.