Native cacao


Cacao is one of the agricultural products with higher current demand in the national and international market. Its industry generates significant revenue worldwide (80 billion annually). Bolivia is one of the few countries in the world that has large areas of wild cacao (13,500 ha of forest stands), taking place in the piedmont forests and the Amazon plain. Families of indigenous peoples, particularly in La Paz and Beni, have traditionally harvested this resource. In the north of La Paz, several communities have wild cacao stands, the most significant are in Carmen del Emero, located in the vicinity of the Beni River.

Since 2003 WCS has supported the Tacana indigenous territorial organization (CIPTA) and its 83 harvesters from Carmen del Emero, San Silvestre, Santa Fe, Macahua and Tumupasa, in managing wild cacao stands, implementing native cacao agroforestry plots and improving harvesting and post harvest treatment of cacao. In 2006, they achieved the certification of 140 hectares of wild cacao stands by Biolatina, and the establishment in Tumupasa of 16 ha of cacao production under agroforestry systems.

In 2009 WCS started working with the Association of Ecological Producers of Native Cacao from Mapiri Municipality (APCAO Mapiri) and the Association of Ecological Producers of Native Cacao of the Leco Larecaja Indigenous People (CHOCOLECO), in coordination with Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation. The project aims to strengthen the supply chain of cacao in the region, providing comprehensive support in the management of wild cacao crops and agro-forestry systems and harvest and post-harvest processes.

Currently the project is divided into four working areas in northern La Paz: 1) Tacana communities of the Beni River area, 2) Tacana communities of San Buenaventura-Ixiamas road area, 3) communities the Pilon Lajas Protected Area and Indigenous Land and, 4) communities of the CHOCOLECO and APCAO Mapiri associations. Among the participants are APCAO Mapiri, CHOCOLECO, the Tumupasa Agroecological Producer Association (APAET), and Tacana producers of San Pedro, San Silvestre, Carmen Emero and Villa Fatima communities; and producers of communities of the T'simane Mosetene Regional Council (CRTM): Asunción del Quiquibey, Charque, San Bernardo, San Luis Chico, San Luis Grande and Bolsón.

The project comprises four components: research, technical support for production, quality management and strengthening of marketing and organizational capacity.

As part of the research, a study is being conducted on the characterization of morphological and genetic variability of native cacao (Theobroma cacao L.) in the municipalities of Guanay Mapiri, Ixiamas and San Buenaventura. Progress has been made in the collection of fruits, leaves and soil, as well as in DNA extraction.

An important activity has been the support provided to Carmen del Emero in developing the management plan for wild cacao and the analysis of the conservation status of the cacao stands. From the maps developed in workshops with the community, 13 cacao stands were identified and mapped in the forests on the banks of the Beni river, covering an estimated area of 2,921 ha, of which 2,733 ha are found in Carmen del Emero and have a potential production under management of 103,500 kg/year of cacao. Currently, the community collects between 138 and 230 kg/family per year, representing between 6,440 and 10,580 kg for the 46 families.

The management plan aims to improve harvest rates of families through Good Harvest Practices (BPR for its acronym in Spanish), and post-harvest processes to achieve the required quality for special markets. Similarly, a process of establishing an association of cacao producers, under the principles and regulations established by CIPTA, is under way.

In 2013 the registry of cacao plots of the associations of Chocolecos, APCAO Mapiri and APAET (zones 2 and 3), was concluded and mapped a total of 134 plots over an area of 69 hectares, corresponding to 91 associated producers.

The work carried out in zone 2, with the Chocolecos and APCAO Mapiri associations has been important and resulted in the establishment of 62 ha of cacao production under agroforestry systems, using timber (mahogany, cinchona bark, cedar, colorado, paquio, serebó) and fruit trees (pacay, custard apple, avocado, banana, citrus) as canopy species.

Technical support was directed at strengthening the capacity of 252 male and female (42%) producers of the different associations and communities in: implementing plots, crop management and harvest and post harvest processes. Technical assistance was carried out through the establishment of 25 field schools and periodic visits to the producer´s plots.

In 2013, favorable quality parameters of cacao harvest were achieved, in terms of organoleptic attributes and physical characteristics of the bean, and allowed commercialization in niche markets. A sale to the Para Ti chocolate factory was achieved and included an origin denomination explaining the history of chocolate production in northern La Paz.