See how CONACADO's cocoa farmers confronted the challenges of low productivity with an innovative project of demonstration plots and improved agricultural practices.


Country: Dominican Republic

Founded: 1988

Fairtrade certified in: 2009

Main products: Cocoa


The path of Dominican cocoa producers towards excellence in production: The CONACADO example

443 Conacado Cocoa Farmer 870
Nicolas cuts down a cocoa fruit at the Fairtrade certified CONACADO cocoa cooperative, Dominican Republic.
Image © Jasper Carlberg

In 2011, the Fairtrade cocoa cooperative CONACADO, based in the Dominican Republic, started the Cooperative Development Program (CDP). The project was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and supported by the Fairtrade export company Equal Exchange. The project aimed to increase productivity, ensure cocoa quality, and strengthen the capacities of the cooperative.

2019 Conacado CPD Project Sign 870
A sign highlights CONACADO's Cooperative Development Program.
Image courtesy of CONACADO

At that time, one of the biggest problems facing CONACADO was the low productivity of its members’ farming operations, which stood at an average of 436 kilos per hectare (kg/ha). Some producers even obtained less than 360 kg/ha. These figures were well below the productivity achieved in other cocoa-producing countries such as Brazil, Colombia or Peru.

In general, productivity was very low due to poor practises by producers, the low density of cocoa plants and an inadequate spatial distribution, limited financial resources to invest in farms, and low-productivity varieties,’ explains Basilio Almonte, Product and Market Coordinator Cocoa at the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Fair Trade Small Producers and Workers (CLAC).

This low productivity contributed to the low income received by the majority of CONACADO producers, in turn leading to a lack of motivation among the younger generation to continue with cocoa production.

Demonstrative plots: learning by observing best practices

One of the CDP project’s main interventions to increase cocoa productivity and quality was the implementation of a programme of demonstrative plots. Eight organic cocoa farms with very low levels of productivity were selected in CONACADO branches to serve as examples of good practice in cocoa management for other producers in the area.

Each demonstrative plot was assigned a technician. This specialist was in charge of the programme, which included a process of constant training and support for carrying out new agricultural practices with the producers who owned the plots.

While these activities directly benefited the producers who owned the demonstration plots, they also brought indirect rewards to the 2,017 members of the CONACADO branches near the demo sites. Through demonstration plots and training, farmers were able to learn and adopt locally appropriate agronomic practices. In addition, the plots also serve as clonal gardens, where producers could obtain vegetative material and seeds to produce grafted or hybrid plants for the renewal of their cocoa plantations.

Positive results

At the end of the project in 2017, productivity levels were calculated for both the demonstration plots and adjacent areas where farmers had learned and applied the new practices to their plots. The results showed a substantial improvement in productivity, demonstrating the effectiveness of the methods used.

In the demonstration plots, productivity jumped by 496 percent, from 353 kg/ha at the beginning of the project (in 2011) to 2104 kg/ha in 2017. In areas close to the demo plots, productivity increased by 258 percent over the same period.

'When I started to apply the new practices to my plot […] people told me I was crazy, but I did it because I had seen that it gave results. My farm was previously very overgrown – it had old trees with low productivity. But I put in young plants and now those same people who told me I was crazy are interested in what I’m doing,' explains Evaristo Sánchez , a producer who owns one of the demonstration plots.

'The farm is 50 percent grafted with basal suckers and nursery grafts. Now the neighbours want to visit the farm because they have seen I have shade control, living barriers and production. Now they say I’m not so crazy. In the other 50 percent of the farm I will continue to implement the new practices because they have made a difference. Now I can say that I am an expert in grafting.'

Expanding the benefits

Based on the project’s positive results, once it concluded in 2017 CONACADO members decided to invest part of their Fairtrade Premium into continuing to expand the programme to other branches and members of the cooperative. At present, 10 percent of CONACADO producers – some 900 partners – have already benefited from an increase in productivity on their farms, and have direct access to demonstration plots where they can not only learn relevant agricultural techniques but also obtain vegetative material and seeds for the rejuvenation of their plantations.

CLAC, the Fairtrade producer network in the region, has decided to start a new phase of the project that will include two other Fairtrade certified cooperatives in the Dominican Republic, COOPROAGRO and APCOC. Additionally, this new phase plans to involve cocoa producers from neighbouring Haiti, where productivity rates are even lower. The objective is the transfer and exchange of technical knowledge, allowing Haitian producers to learn from Dominican peers.

‘After having witnessed the impact of this first project, I am very excited to start this new phase which can help more producers at Fairtrade cocoa cooperatives in the Dominican Republic and also in Haiti to improve their productivity and quality. We plan to start the project this fall and it will last 24 months, during which we will provide financial and technical support,’ notes CLAC’s Basilio Almonte.