women’s cocoa cooperatives of the Dominican Republic

During my recent visit to the Dominican Republic, I was inspired by a visit to the women’s cocoa cooperative in Vincentillo, a tiny village located in the province of El Seibo. El Seibo is just east of the province of Hato Mayor where I was staying, and is not in close proximity to any tourist destinations. Yet, I was impressed with the progressive initiatives of this group.

womens-cocoa-cooperative

women's-cocoa-cooperatives

The women’s cocoa cooperative in El Seibo, Dominican Republic, is open and ready for business.

Meeting with the leaders of the Asociación de Mujures Esperanzas Unidas showed me how difficult it is to build your vision. You have to have a clear plan and follow the steps that will get you there.

learning about women’s cocoa cooperatives

The group was formed in 1972, but there are only two or three of the original founders who are still active with the group today. Their membership high was 45. Today, there are 25 members. In 2013, the group received some government funding to help them grow. Slowly, their hard work is paying off and the group is optimistic about its future.

The goals of the Asociación de Mujures Esperanzas Unidas are:

  1. to produce products that meet international and local standards.
  2. to always be in production.
  3. to have good clients.
  4. to have an abundance of raw materials to work with.
  5. to have the ability to process their own beans.

Currently, the cooperative only works with processed beans. They do not ferment or dry the beans, but they do roast and winnow them.

womens-cocoa-cooperatives

One of the members of the cooperative shows us some recently winnowed cocoa beans that they will conch (grind) for 24 hours and then make into chocolate.

As my visit was in January, there was very little cocoa on-site as it is low season for cocoa production. But I could still see their equipment and some chocolate being made. With the limited amount of cocoa they have from their own farms, and some that they purchase from other producers, the group sells their chocolate and other cacao-based products at local fairs and via their on-site store. Three of their specialties are the Vino De Cacao (a 17% alcohol sherry-like liquor made from fermented cocoa beans to which water has been added,) a cacao marmalade and a special vinegar (both made from cacao pulp.)

womens-cocoa-cooperatives

Cacao wine and marmalade are two of the products that the women’s cocoa cooperative makes in addition to chocolate.

womens-cocoa-cooperative

At present, the women’s cocoa cooperative in El Siebo makes about 10% of its income from the sale of bottled water processed in its own water treatment plant.

In addition to cacao-based products, the women’s cocoa cooperative in El Siebo treats and distributes bottled water. This activity is an excellent income-generating stream for the group.

You can visit the El Siebo location by taking a chocolate tour offered by this company. El Siebo is an hour’s drive from Hato Mayor and a 90-minute drive from Punta Cana. As there had been a fair amount of rain prior to my visit, the road was washed out in places, so it not a drive for the faint of heart.

omens-cocoa-cooperatives

The country roads in the Dominican Republic are often washed out when there are heavy rains. Drive with caution!

Another women’s cocoa cooperative that is struggling, but moving forward is the Chocal group of Altamira (in the Puerto Plata region of the Dominican Republic.)

Chocal has a Spanish site at https://chocalaltamira.wordpress.com/el-origen-de-chocal/but my friend Donna Janke has an excellent post on her site about her visit to the women’s cocoa cooperative as part of ‘cruise voluntourism’ activities offered by Fathom Travel.

The chocolate and cacao industry in the Dominican Republic is thriving, in part due to the efforts and guidance provided by the Comisión Nacional Del Cacao. I will share their story in the next post.

P.S. I’m happy to share this post on this site in celebration of Travel Photo Thursday. You may wish to check out some of these great blogs if you enjoy travel.

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

54 Responses

  1. Wendy Peck says:

    Women often seem to be so good at forming cooperatives. Thanks for sharing this successful one with us.

  2. Donna Janke
    Twitter:
    says:

    Thanks Doreen for listing my post about Chocal. I hope the cooperative in El Seibo does well. Chocolate marmalade sounds pretty good. Selling bottled water for added income is a good idea. That road may not have been for the faint of heart, but the scenery looks lovely.

  3. Suzanne Boles
    Twitter:
    says:

    I’m always inspired by your knowledge of chocolate Doreen, and have been lucky to take part in two of your excursions, so I felt extremely fortunate to be able to visit and help out at the Chocal Women’s Chocolate Cooperative in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, with Fathom Impact Travel in January. We helped with de-shelling nibs, putting stickers on the packages, planting seeds and more. It was a wonderful experience, plus we helped increase production for these hard-working women. They have shown so much promised that they’ve secured a substantial loan and are expanding their chocolate sales to Canada. I’ll be looking for their delicious treats on our store shelves!

  4. Catarina says:

    What a wonderful project, Doreen. Love the fact that it’s carried out by women.

  5. Phoenicia
    Twitter:
    says:

    Doreen – thank you for sharing this. I find it inspirational to see women in developing countries pushing forward. It gives an element of hope.

  6. Linda
    Twitter:
    says:

    The chocolate sherry and the chocolate marmalade sound interesting. Did you enjoy the taste? Is the sherry a sipping wine or more of a cooking wine?

    • Hi Linda, and thx for your interest. Please know, both the “wine” and the marmalade are cacao, and not chocolate flavoured. There are no chocolate notes whatsoever in the flavour profiles, texture or colour (although the marmalade is brown.) I was not fond of the ‘wine’ and reckon it more to sherry. But not a smooth sipping sherry. Perhaps it would be good in cooking. I think the recipe needs a bit of work. The marmalade is more palatable. I think it pairs nicely with cream cheese and I eat it on bagels.

      • Linda
        Twitter:
        says:

        Well that’s a very honest assessment, Doreen. Which explains why you didn’t address the flavor of these products. lol. But kudos for them for experimenting and thinking outside of the box.

  7. Linda Strange says:

    “Women united in hope” indeed ! Good to see. Very glad you added this to your chocolate experience.

    • Thanks, Linda. I am so fortunate that my hosts put together an incredible itinerary for me that showcased every segment of the cacao chain in the Dominican Republic. I think you’ll enjoy the next post, too. Stay tuned1

  8. kim russell says:

    Hi…we have open sourced our homemade 50lb roaster and winnowing….both are made from local junk and easy to construct….the roaster uses charcoal and the winnower needs electricity….please pass this on to the respective coops

    • Thanks for your input, Kim. Yes, I have indeed seen your homemade equipment and have tasted the incredible chocolate that results from it. The ladies are already roasting and winnowing with equipment they purchased via a low-interest government loan. But they have not yet tried fermenting or drying their own beans. Hopefully they will be able to add those key steps to their process, as they could definitely increase their rate of return if they did.
      Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…women’s cocoa cooperatives of the Dominican RepublicMy Profile

  9. Erica says:

    Love hearing about a women’s cooperative. It is just great to hear about women throughout the world lifting themselves up. And with such a long history, they must be doing something right.

  10. Beverly says:

    I was very glad to read about another successful women’s cooperative. The washed out roads must require very skillful drivers to navigate them. You do have adventures, Doreen!

  11. The road looks severely damaged. However, you are doing a great job with your blog giving shout outs to women only cooperatives. I would love to taste the chocolate made by Asociación de Mujures Esperanzas Unidas.

    • Thx for your comment, Tania. I think the folks who live in the rural areas are used to their roads being washed out. I’ve seen this in other countries besides the DR. The chocolate made by the ladies contains some coconut oil. It was not my favourite, but I appreciate their efforts and willingness to learn.

  12. Emily
    Twitter:
    says:

    It’s really great to see how this long-standing group is still making movement in the cocoa production industry. The cocoa marmalade certainly sounds interesting!

  13. I knew these co-ops existed but didn’t know too much about them. It’s so great that you visited one and shared your experience!

  14. How inspiring Doreen! This reminds me of some of the women’s cooperatives I’ve learned about through KIVA, such a wonderful organization! Thank you for sharing and, as always, love your photographs. 🙂

  15. Their goals are simple but clear and certainly good ones for a business to put before them. It’s always a delight to read about the small companies who are doing so much…with much more to come. I’m sure we’ll hear about them in the future.

  16. Erin
    Twitter:
    says:

    What a motivating and incredible group of women! Even though it is hard to build your vision, clearly it can pay off in so many ways. This article was a true example of that. Once again, thank you so much for sharing your chocolate wisdom and experiences Doreen!

  17. Chris
    Twitter:
    says:

    I love places and initiatives that both empower locals and provide a future for marginalised or minorities.

    Such a great cooperative, and let’s hope their numbers can once again grow!

  18. Thank you, I will come here again to explore the places you shared

  19. Sandy N Vyjay
    Twitter:
    says:

    I find it inspiring as a woman knowing that they were able to put up a cooperative. And how they manage to start it up and help not only other women but also the community.

  20. Linh B says:

    There are so many things that I haven’t known before about chocolate. I admire your knowledge and be-ready-spirit that you always try to discover new things from chocolate. Great post! Please keep updating your experiences <3

    • Thanks very much, Linh. One thing that I have learned is that I will never know all there is to know about chocolate. It is such a large and encompassing world. And so I have devoted myself to learning all I can and am happy to share.

  21. Sushmita
    Twitter:
    says:

    Love when women come together to work, your post reminded me of a co-operative in India, which started with a modest loan of Rs 80, the cooperative now has annual sales exceeding Rs 3.1 billion as per stats in 2015 itself!
    Lovely post dear 🙂

  22. Susan Cooper
    Twitter:
    says:

    Wow, Chocolate marmalade sound intriguing and incredible. I love it when women come together in a cooperative to make wonderful things happen.

    • HI Susan. Keep in mind this is a cacao marmalade, and not a chocolate one. There is quite a difference! There is very little sugar in the cacao version as compared to a traditional citrus fruit version. Interesting. But probably not what you’d expect.

  23. budget jan
    Twitter:
    says:

    Any post about chocolate and women getting together in a cooperative and making it work is awesome in my book. I love the smell of roasting beans. Thanks for linking up and sharing.

  24. Wonderful trip sharing and glad to hear about the most famous cocoa cooperatives of the dominican republic. Thanks.

  25. Ami Bhat
    Twitter:
    says:

    It is quite inspiring and encouraging to see such success with women cooperatives and Kudos to you for bring that out. It is positive news like this that we need!

    • Thanks, Ami. I agree. I really try to focus on the positive in my work. Life is filled with far too many other kinds of stories that make us sad, scare us, or anger us. I want to try and give people information while making them smile or feel hopeful about the world. 🙂

  26. Sherryl Perry
    Twitter:
    says:

    Yikes! That road looks frightening to try to navigate! It must have been very satisfying to visit with the women from the cooperative. That’s inspiring that they are thriving in their little town.
    Sherryl Perry recently posted…Do You Want to Consolidate Multiple Websites?My Profile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge