On the southern pacific coast of Colombia, Tumaco is a region that has been hard hit by historic political conflict and plagued by narcotrafficking. The predominantly Afro-Colombian population has faced a great deal of prejudice and sustainable local development has been hijacked by extensive penetration of paramilitary and narco groups.
In recent years, widespread coca (cocaine) plantations have been replaced with nearly 14,000 hectares of flourishing cacao parcels. A combination of government intervention, NGO support and new markets like Cacao de Colombia helped shape this growth. Most recently, when the government offered standard CCN-51 and ICS-95 clones to Tumaco farmers as part of a national cacao industry plan, many of these farmers chose to refuse the standard clones and instead seek out local fine flavor genetics to graft onto the rootstock, leading to a uniquely chocolatey, nutty, and spicy flavor profile for the region.
When Cacao de Colombia first explored the region back in 2011, they found cacao everywhere; drying on any flat surface farmers could find, including the road. The sheer volume of cacao was overwhelming, and the opportunity for quality and systemic improvement was obvious. Cacao de Colombia has worked with three community cooperatives to introduce centralized processing and drying. Because of the introduction of centralized processing and Cacao de Colombia's expertise in high-quality flavor development, farmers today earn 70% more income from cacao today than they did when selling dried beans to the commodity market supply chain, and have a true sustainable alternative to coca production or involvement in the narco groups.
Since these cooperatives started buying wet cacao, farmers themselves report improved quality of life due to year-round buying, increased income, and time saved processing cacao themselves. While narcotrafficking is still present in the region (on Emily's recent trip to visit the groups in Tumaco, boats loaded with coca paste were passing down the river right next to the cacao farmers), the growth of the cacao industry is building power and unity among farmers in the struggle for better, safer lives in Tumaco communities.