Conacado cocoa cooperative

Fairtrade can change the lives of farmers, such as those in the Conacado cocoa co-operative.

Mariano Manzuela

Cocoa farmer, Conacado, Dominican Republic

For Mariano Manzuela, a member of the Conacado cocoa cooperative in the Dominican Republic, Fairtrade means four of his 11 children attend secondary school on scholarships from the Fairtrade Premium. What started as a development project in 1988, has now become the tenth largest cocoa exporter in the world. Conacado now provides Fairtrade cocoa products to brands such as Green & Black’s, Lush Cosmetics, Ben & Jerry’s and Café Direct.

Struggling to get ahead

Conacado is an association of nearly 10,000 farmers who sell Fairtrade and organic cocoa. Before the formation of Conacado, cocoa production in the tropical region was fragmented and of low quality. The cocoa farmers were selling low quality unfermented beans - largely to the United States - and four families held a powerful grip on the local market. No matter what they did, small farmers like Mariano could not get ahead.

Conacado and Fairtrade

Certified by Fairtrade in 1995, Conacado cocoa now makes up 25 percent of national production and sells between 6,500 and 13,300 metric tons of cocoa annually. It has become one of the top three cocoa exporters in the Dominican Republic.

Grown under the shade of avocado, citrus, and banana trees, nearly half of Conacado cocoa is sold on the Fairtrade market. As a result, the cooperative receives an extra payment, the Fairtrade Premium, totalling $USD200,000 each year, in addition to the set price of cocoa. Decisions on how to invest the Premium in business and community development are agreed upon by all members, who are organized into nine ‘blocks’ composed of 182 small farmer associations throughout the country. Mariano’s block decided to use funds from the Premium to build a new classroom for his son’s primary school.

Members have also used the Premium to build five new fermentation centres and eight drying centres. They have also purchased trucks to transport the beans, repaired the roads and built warehouses for storage. All of these improvements lead to increased productivity and higher quality beans.

Access to new markets

Conacado now sells more than 70 percent of its cocoa to higher paying niche markets. According to Isidro de la Rosa, Executive Director of Conacado, access to these markets has made all the difference in the growth of the cooperative.

"In our country there was no tradition of fermenting cocoa. With the additional Fairtrade income we were able to implement a fermentation program to improve the quality and to convert our production to certified organic. These days competition for small-scale farmers organizations has become very aggressive, so only niche markets allow us to survive."

Catching Green & Black’s eye

Conacado’s rise has particularly impressed Green & Black’s, an organic chocolate brand. Conacado is now the main source of cocoa for Green & Black’s, which switched its entire range of chocolate bars and beverage products to 100 percent Fairtrade in 2011. This new commitment will mean that Conacado’s Fairtrade Premium should rise to more than $485,000 annually over the next ten years.

This is good news for farmers like Mariano. While the ability to sell his cocoa beans at the Fairtrade price has meant a rise in income, it is still hard for farmers with large families like his to send all of their children to school and make it from one harvest to the next without taking out a loan. Two of Mariano’s children recently won places in the university and Mariano’s biggest hope for the future is that his children will be able to finish their education.

“We have committed $500,000 in local initiatives to improve quality and availability of our products, but we wanted to do more to support our farmers,” says Dominic Lowe, Managing Director of Green & Black’s.

“This switch is a key milestone in our relationship with the farmers that are so fundamental in the making of the best tasting, premium, organic, and now Fairtrade, chocolate you can buy.”

For Santos Mendoza, president of Conacado, this announcement represents brighter and more stable futures for struggling farmers.

“Our biggest worry is ensuring that we have a guaranteed market for our cocoa that provides us with long-term sustainable livelihoods. Through the pricing structure and the Fairtrade Premium, we can ensure a brighter future for our family, other farmers and our friends.”

Some examples of where you can find Organic Conacado cocoa are Altereco chocolate spreads and chocolate bars, Café Direct’s hot chocolate, Lush’s cocoa butter product range and Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream.

For more information on Conacado, visit their website or their Facebook page.