growing cocoa in the Dominican Republic
I recently came across some interesting data on cocoa production telling me that the Dominican Republic (DR) is the largest producer of cocoa in the Caribbean. The largest producers worldwide are the Ivory Coast (West Africa), followed by Brazil (South America) and Ghana (West Africa).
growing sustainable cocoa in the dominican republic is focused on organics
The really interesting thing is that as small as it is, the Dominican Republic is the largest producer of organic sustainable cocoa in the world, offering up 70,000 tonnes of high-grade, organic, fine-flavour cocoa for export each year. That explains why so many of the world’s finest chocolate makers love working with cocoa beans grown in the Dominican Republic. It is delicious, sustainable, and organic!
In 2015, the Government of the Dominican Republic, the National Cocoa Commission (NCC), and the United Nations Development Program signed an agreement to strengthen the sustainability of the cocoa sector that directly employs 40,000 farmers and provides employment to an additional 350,000 of the island’s population. The goal is to bring cocoa up to the number two spot after sugar cane, which remains the top agricultural crop of the DR. Cocoa is currently a close second to tobacco, but officials feel it has strong growth potential and continue to work with cocoa farmers to help them succeed.
I visited the National Cocoa Commission (Comisión Nacional Del Cacao) and learned much from its representatives. The purpose of the NCC is to preserve the genetics of Dominican Republic cacao, and to sell cacao seedlings to cocoa farmers. The primary type of cacao grown in the Hato Mayor region of the DR is a Trinitario hybrid that has been created by grafting Amelonado with Criollo. This was the first time I had ever heard of Amelonado cacao. Its beans are highly aromatic and produce cocoa with an intense floral flavour.
Because, for the most part, the climate of the DR is perfect for growing cocoa, the island has had good success in producing a high-grade organic product that is highly coveted around the world by chocolate makers and chocolate lovers alike. “The Dominican Republic is paradise for cocoa, as it has very little disease, and no problem with insects or vermin,” said Yony Molina Soto, a Farmer Education Specialist with the NCC.
The DR has virtually no Black Pod Disease that you see in so many of the cacao growing countries. It was particularly bad in Ecuador during my visit. There have been problems with rats and woodpeckers, but the farmers have come up with solutions. They put out coconut mixed with salt, and it kills any rats who eat it. And they’ve had success with scaring woodpeckers away by hanging plastic bags in the trees. Persistent woodpeckers are shot without a trial.
It has been determined that the cocoa farmers need more training in their fermentation and drying practices to produce an even better product, and allow the farmers to charge more for their product. Once the improved farming and processing techniques have been fully put into place, the DR will be well on its way to truly having a sustainable value chain for all involved in the cacao industry.
Improvements to the infrastructure are also necessary. As I mentioned in this post about the El Seibo women’s cocoa cooperative, the rains often wash out the local roads, thereby delaying transportation of the fresh cocoa beans to the fermenting stations in a timely manner.
At present, the NCC has 10 full-time staff working at its Hato Mayor farm location, with its headquarters in the capital of Santo Domingo. There are plans to build a lab and chocolate workshop on the rural site among the 2,000 fully grown cacao trees and the 400,000 seedlings they have planted. The commitment to cacao is very strong throughout the Dominican Republic–all the way up to the President’s office–I am told.