A Fairtrade co-op that 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.
CONACADO is an association of nearly 10,000 farmers that 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.
CONACADO cocoa now makes up 25 percent of national production and sells between 6,500 and 13,300 metric tonnes 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 co-operative receives an extra payment, the Fairtrade Premium, totaling US $200,000 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.
One farmer, Mariano Manzuela, a member of the CONACADO co-operative in the Dominican Republic, has been able to send four of his children to secondary school on scholarships from the Fairtrade Premium.
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.
CONACADO work with chocolate producers Green & Blacks. Dominic Lowe, Managing Director of Green & Black’s, said: “We have committed US $500,000 in local initiatives to improve quality and availability of our products, but we wanted to do more to support our farmers.
“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.”
CONACADO now sells more than 70 percent of its cocoa to higher paying niche markets in Europe, such as organic, biodynamic and Fairtrade.
According to Isidro de la Rosa, Executive Director of CONACADO, access to these markets has made all the difference in the growth of the co-operative: "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."