We’re proud to work with Fortaleza del Valle, a 935-member cacao co-op in Calceta, Manabí, Ecuador. We use their distinctive and delicious cacao in our Organic Ecuador Dark Chocolate and our Organic Extreme Dark Chocolate! Read on to find out more about the co-op, our partnership and the farmers who grow the cacao.
Fortaleza del Valle is one of few Fair Trade and Organic certified cacao producer organizations in Ecuador. They place a strong focus on offering a quality product to their customers, and the emphasis on quality starts with the genetics of the trees. Ecuador produces 70% of the world’s cacao designated as “fine and with aroma,” and Fortaleza will only purchase from members who grow the Nacional Arriba variety that falls under this designation. In 2012, we began working with the organization and co-financed a laboratory that allows the staff there to make small batches of chocolate. We also helped them to form a tasting panel that has tasted more than 200 samples to date! This allows Fortaleza to evaluate their product in the way their buyers do, to improve their post-harvest processing, and to recognize the true value of their product. From 2012 to 2014, they were able to increase their quality premiums from $800 per metric ton above market price to $1,150. In 2016, they plan to produce chocolate bars for sale on the national market.
The partnership between Equal Exchange and Fortaleza del Valle over the 3 years of the USAID Co-operative Development Program (CDP) allowed the two organizations to develop a much closer working connection than before.
Fortaleza del Valle is also the first cacao producer organization in Ecuador to have implemented a member savings program, akin to the patronage program that Equal Exchange’s worker-owners participate in. With the help of co-op experts in the US and Ecuador, our USAID CDP project introduced the concepts of member equity to gain member loyalty and capital to help support the growth of their organization. Farmers understood quickly that this savings approach was not just about themselves but about their whole family and their greater community. Right now they save $0.75 per kilo of cacao delivered in their name in an account at FDV
“One of my personal favorite outcomes of our collaboration in quality is the change in fermentation protocol at the Quiroga post-harvest processing center. The Calceta center is the primary post-harvest center for FDV, and Quiroga is secondary. They were using the same protocols for both, with 4 days of fermentation. We visited Quiroga and noted that the
elevation and climate varied significantly from Calceta, and the delivery of beans in some cases is a multi-day process via boats. Through tasting samples in the lab and some experimental trials, the team there established that the quality of the beans from Quiroga would benefit significantly from an additional day of fermentation. After making this change to
the processing, the quality of the beans from Quiroga did improve significantly.”
“Lupita” and her family manage a 4 hectare farm with just over 3,000 cacao plants. They also harvest banana, orange, lemon, and sapote. They have installed an irrigation system which has helped to increase the productivity of the plants. In addition, they have chickens and a tilapia pond. Lupita’s farm mainly features Ecuador’s well-known Nacional Arriba cacao, famed for its fine flavor and floral aromas. Lupita has also served many years on the Board of Directors of the organization.
Don Cruz is a member of the FDV Oversight Committee at Fortaleza. He was also selected to participate in the Model Farm Program as part of our USAID CDP project. Don Cruz has three hectares of cacao. He mainly works the farm by himself but sometimes his son also helps out. In 2012, he harvested 29 quintals of cacao and through participation in the Model Farm program he increased to 38 quintals per hectare. In addition to the cacao, Don Cruz also grows mandarin, banana and coffee, and raises chickens.