Families produce almonds in agroforestry systems and supply chocolate manufacturers
Luciano Ferreira — Foto: Divulgação/Ana Lee
Once, they were seen as outlaws by those who did not understand their struggle for agrarian reform. Now, they are role models in sustainable cocoa production. Farmers from the Dois Riachões settlement in Ibirapitanga, southern Bahia, produce organic beans whose market value is more than two and a half times that of conventional cocoa.
In the 1990s, the fall in cocoa prices due to the entry of Africa into the international market and the outbreak of witch’s broom, a disease caused by the fungus Moniliophthora perniciosa, caused a serious crisis in Bahia. The state’s production fell to 100,000 tonnes from 400,000 tonnes.
The situation led many producers and sharecroppers — farmers who worked on other people’s land in exchange for a share of the harvest — to migrate to urban centers, leaving behind infected cocoa trees and pastures. Some workers, however, went to black tarpaulin camps associated with social movements.
“People called us vagrants and dangerous,” said Luciano Ferreira, who joined one of these camps on the outskirts of the BA-652 highway in 2001.
The path was not easy. It took about 17 years for the families to obtain the land titles, in 2018. In the meantime, Mr. Ferreira and some of his neighbors were engaged in a struggle to improve cocoa production and discovered agroecology. But the turnaround was not so simple.
“There was a generational conflict, but we worked with the pedagogy of example, in experimental areas. We had to show that it was possible to produce without poison [pesticides] and without burning the land,” says the farmer, adding that today the bylaws of Dois Riachões forbids the use of chemicals in the settlement.
Of the 40 families in the settlement, 34 are certified as organic producers by Rede de Agroecologia Povos da Mata, the second-largest Participative Organization for the Evaluation of Organic Conformity (Opac) in Brazil after Ecovida.
In this certification model, at least three producers who are members of the network and not part of the settlement visit the farms every six months or year to check the condition of the cocoa trees. The advantage is a reduction in costs compared to traditional auditors.
Currently, all of the settlement’s cocoa production takes place in agroforestry systems, with the cabruca model accounting for 70% of the total. In this cultivation system, the cocoa trees grow in the shade of native Atlantic Forest trees and receive enough light for production.
In the agroforestry systems that are not part of the cabruca model, producers in the settlement plant at least five short-cycle crops to add value to the land while the cacao is not profitable.
The chirping of the birds is a sign of production in harmony with the environment. Mr. Ferreira shows a water tank used to store the biocalda — a mixture of manure, sugarcane molasses, microorganisms, and other products — that has helped keep the plants healthy without the use of chemicals.
According to the farmer, most of the cacao in the settlement comes from the Pará and Parazinho varieties, which are susceptible to the disease. However, the constant management of the trees reduces the spread of the fungus.
In addition to differentiated management, in 2018 the farmers of the settlement sought to obtain a greater return from the almonds by building a cocoa processing structure. Mr. Ferreira and three other brave farmers took out a three-year loan to build a fermentation house, a solar greenhouse, and a cocoa warehouse.
“It was a lot of money at the time, and we decided to do what no one else wanted to do,” he says with a broad smile, emphasizing that all the settlers in Dois Riachões use the structure. A year later, they implemented a small artisanal chocolate factory.
The credit for the processing structure came from the NGO Tabôa, the community empowerment arm of the Arapyaú Institute, created by Guilherme Leal, cosmetics company Natura’s founding partner. In the coming weeks, the settlers will apply for new funding to transform the artisanal chocolate factory into a larger business.
“We made Easter eggs and sold them to people in Salvador [Bahia’s capital], but also in Paraná, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro. The demand is very high. We need funds to buy all the inputs. It is an investment likely to pay off in less than a year,” he estimates.
The work of the Dois Riachões producers would only make sense if there were someone to appreciate it. For this reason, Mr. Leal also created the Dengo chocolate company, which pays a premium for almonds based on their quality.
“We propose to be a company with social impact, to double the income of 3,000 farmers who preserve the forest,” said Roberto Teles, co-director of the innovation center located at the Conduru farm in Ilhéus. On the property, Dengo studies cocoa management and hosts tourists who want to learn about the processes behind quality chocolate.
While an arroba (15 kilos) of raw cocoa sells for R$210, Dengo pays R$450 to R$ 525 for an arroba of almonds produced at Dois Riachões.
*Por José Florentino — Ibirapitanga, Ilhéus
Source: Valor International