Although in the past several development projects have addressed sustainability from separate socio-economics, gender, research, and conservation perspectives, few attempts have been made to link these concepts under one umbrella. Fewer still have fostered the ability of local communities to carry that umbrella.
The small scale cacao farmers association "FONMSOEAM", stands for "Federation of Black, Mestizos Organization of small scale cacao farmers from the South Western Esmeraldas, Atacames y Muisne). The FONMSOEAM community-based Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Conservation of Natural Resources will help cement an interdisciplinary partnership between small farmers, grass-roots conservation organizations, community-based financial institution, government officials, and the manufacturing and retail sectors of lucrative, high end chocolate products and chocolate byproducts. (See map)
This project targets farmers in the Esmeraldas province, one of the most economically depressed region of Ecuador. Per capita GNP is 48% below the national average, and most lack access to clean water, education and healthcare. The farmers way of life helps protect and paradoxically threatens one of the last intact forest ecosystems in the Mache Chindul Ecological Reserve and surrounding areas, part of the Choco Bioregion considered a global priority for biodiversity conservation.
Of crops produced, cacao is the greenest and has considerable untapped market potential. However, farmers are unorganized, uninformed and commercialize unilaterally in an increasingly oligopolistic market. Cooperative agreements, infrastructure, technology and education are crucial steps to access better prices.
The FONMSOEAM Center for Sustainable Development and Conservation of Natural Resources is an initiative to organize small cacao farmers and integrate them with local conservation organizations towards the common goal of increasing revenues and awareness of a sustainable and environmentally healthy crop.
Specific objectives include community based monitoring of biodiversity in agroforestry systems, exploitation of sub-products currently discarded; local financial autonomy through the womans bank; collective distribution of raw cacao to receive better prices; and creation of an international market image for environmentally friendly cacao and chocolate products.
Project activities include strengthening of farmers organizations (currently ongoing); forge a collaborative agreement with a local conservation organization, partner with national and international NGOs willing to assist with the project (ongoing), computer and software training to members of the farmer's association (ongoing), GIS-based inventory of cacao plantations and biodiversity estimates (6 months); construction of Sustainable Development Center (SDC) including office with internet connectivity (10 months); expansion of SDC to include facilities for juice extraction, fermentation and drying of cacao (6 months); experiment with processing of byproducts for livestock feed (2 months); planting of a 1 hectare model cacao farm integrated with native timber trees (6mon); training workshops in post-harvest processing, use of personal computers and internet, accounting systems and cacao marketing and distribution strategies (6mon).
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