A discussion with MOCCA program partners
Two years ago, FCIA joined an important partnership with the USDA-funded MOCCA program in Latin America. The program covers much of Central America and the Andean Region and will benefit 750,000 smallholder coffee and cacao farmers and their families. MOCCA has seven components aiming to catalyze market-based solutions for more profitable specialty coffee and fine cacao value chains. We had the opportunity to discuss MOCCA’s progress to date from Giff Laube, the Deputy Director of Lutheran World Relief; Stassi Baranouf, the Director of Global Operations and Sourcing from Uncommon Cacao; Teddy Ruiz from Cacao Verapaz, a local partner in Guatemala.
Could you tell us about the USDA-funded MOCCA program in Latin America - specifically for cocoa? In what countries does it operate and what are the main activities?
Giff Laube: MOCCA is an ambitious, USDA-funded program in Latin America, with the central goal of stimulating and supporting producers to re-invest in coffee and cocoa in the region. This is being accomplished through farmer training that improves production and quality while encouraging farmers to reinvest and renovate their cocoa and coffee trees. Lutheran World Relief is pleased to be working with USDA, FCIA members, local partners, and farmers on the cocoa component of the program.
What is your specific role in the program and with the private sector?
Giff Laube: As Deputy Director, I work specifically as a liaison between private sector partners in Peru, Ecuador, and Guatemala, and producer groups in the six country region, to foment the goals of the project and advance MOCCA’s agenda. Specifically Component 2 – Market Access to Differentiated or Preferential Markets, is the central goal of my work with MOCCA.
How has COVID impacted your abilities to meet program goals?
Giff Laube: COVID has been challenging for everyone; I feel for those who it has affected personally, and give thanks that in my case the only affectation is professional. But of course, COVID has made implementation very difficult. Cocoa farming is not an online activity, and while we have had to adapt and find strategies to cope with the situation (Cacao Movil; online meeting culture), it is no substitute for real, in-person technical assistance and exposure. Finding ways to promote the cocoa farmer agenda during COVID has made MOCCA an even greater challenge than when it was first presented.
How did Uncommon Cacao get involved in MOCCA?
Stassi Baranouf: Our founder and CEO Emily Stone met Giff Laube (of Lutheran World Relief) many years ago in Nicaragua, and they were both involved in the Central American cacao association -- now AMACACAO. Since then, Lutheran World Relief invested in Uncommon Cacao, so when this opportunity came up they encouraged Cacao Verapaz to apply to the program.
What have been the benefits in this partnership to your company and indirectly to your customers?
Stassi Baranouf: This partnership has been beneficial for several actors in our supply chain, including our direct businesses (Cacao Verapaz and Uncommon Cacao) and our partners (customers in the US and Europe). Uncommon Cacao is focused on being a sustainable business; this often means that we can’t (even though we’d like to) do the technical assistance work that is so critical to setting up long-term, healthy supply chains in rural areas. Our goal is to support cacao communities, to give access to markets for high quality cacao. Sometimes, that cacao is coming from underdeveloped areas that are not yet reaching their potential for cacao as a business. Many of these regions in Guatemala are areas such as this.
This project has allowed Cacao Verapaz to do technical assistance work; to focus their business efforts on selling cacao, while focusing the MOCCA grant on developing cacao farms to supply the market. Our demand at Uncommon Cacao is growing, so this focus on augmenting that growth is welcome throughout our supply chain. Moreover, the mapa de sabores work is enabling us to talk about cacaos from Guatemala as though they are cacaos from the world; the flavors available in this small geographic zone is eye-opening for chocolate makers.
Local Partner Perspective: Cacao Verapaz
Can you describe Cacao Verapaz and the types of activities MOCCA is supporting within your organization?
Teddy Ruiz: Cacao Verapaz is a company established in 2014 in Coban, Alta Verapaz, 210 kms away from Guatemala City. We are currently working with 6 smallholder farmer associations producing dry cacao. We used to provide technical assistance in post harvest to make sure they produce high quality cacao. This cacao is usually exported to Uncommon Cacao and other chocolate makers who value high quality beans, transparent trade and impact.
Even when farmers have a very good farmgate price compared to international market and local market prices, unfortunately in this region their yield is really low compared to other countries. An average farmer in Guatemala has 1 hectare of cacao planted and they produce 300 kg of dry cacao / hectare, while in countries like Ecuador, Dominican Republic and Peru the yield can be above 1,000 kg / hectare.
With MOCCA we are able to provide technical assistance to these farmers looking for an increase in productivity from 300kg to 800 kg / hectare in 3 years. Some of the areas we are covering through MOCCA are organic fertilization, pruning and weeding their plantations. We also are implementing quality laboratories and a pilot irrigation system to help farmers prepare for climate change effects in cacao production.
How are producers in the base organizations of Cacao Verapaz changing their habits/customs related to in-person meetings and training in light of the Covid-19 pandemic?
Teddy Ruiz: Training and technical assistance visits are done directly in the field, with small groups of three to six producers who are owners of neighboring plots where the event takes place. During COVID, we have provided masks and alcohol and disinfectant soap for them to use while they are together, in addition to social distancing. They have taken it well. At the beginning of the use of these protocols they were not comfortable, but they have gradually adapted to this new normal. In the first days after starting with the protocols, there was a bit of uncertainty and fear. Not all the invited producers attended, but with the awareness and motivation that they were given, they gained more confidence.
Has MOCCA’s Cacao Movil technology been helpful in making technical information more accessible to producers virtually? How could MOCCA improve these tools (perhaps translate into native languages) to make them more appropriate or useful for producers?
Teddy Ruiz: The cacao movil technology has definitely helped, and in a great way. It has become a tool that could be accessed in real time and quickly, to make inquiries. The first trainings that were carried out in the second semester of 2020 were supported and based on the cacao movil guide. It was a constant consultation guide, which helped the young promoters of training to provide their technical support processes. Regarding the improvement that it may have, it would be very useful to be able to translate it to a native language, for example to the Mayan language Qeq’chi which is the primary and native language of the producers that we work with, and who will use it.
How has Cacao Verapaz’s business been affected by the pandemic?
Teddy Ruiz: We have been affected in many ways. The way we used to manage our operations required our presence in associations to take a close look at the post harvest process. Every two weeks our Technical Manager used to travel to each association to look at batches in process and evaluate cacao, give guidance on quality, and connect with association members. Over time, we’ve figured out how to safely travel to associations, but it is much less frequently and done with caution so that our team does not bring COVID to the rural areas.
During the first months of the pandemic, cacao demand in Guatemala was reduced to nothing and demand for export was lower than usual. We were able to manage and meet the volumes projected and signed with smallholders associations at the beginning of the harvest.
Logistics have been a challenge. We have needed to change the way we bring cacao to our warehouse and how we dispatch. We established protocols to reduce risk for us and the people we are working with, and so far there have been no cases in our company or the associations that work with us.
Has your cacao supply chain been able to meet your demand?
Yes, production of cacao has been increasing in Guatemala because there has been a big effort from government, NGOs, and the private sector to increase the area planted with cacao trees. The new plants are starting production and there is enough to cover international demand for high quality cacao beans. There is a local market that demands low quality cacao with very low prices -- that is a market that we are not exploring.
We consider it important to make clear that production has been increasing but productivity has not. It is very important that farmers be supported to make good management of their farms, so production can go from 300 to 800 kg per hectare. That will increase their income.
Do you feel that MOCCA support with the Mapa de Sabores will help find new markets?
Teddy Ruiz: Definitely. Developing the flavor map with the support of MOCCA will be a very important window of opportunity for us, since it can show and express the full potential of the flavor and aroma profiles of cocoa that we have in our region, which can be tested by customers all over the world.
We are working hard to develop a specific post harvest protocol for each origin that is included in the Flavor Map.