Chachi Cocoa Farmers of Ecuador
The indigenous Chachi originally lived in Ecuador's highlands, but in the face of Incan and Spanish conquests, fled to the Pacific Coast. There, amidst the dense, moist Chocó forest, they are raising cocoa. In the community of Esmeraldas, the Rainforest Alliance's Ecuadorian partner Conservation and Development (C&D) has been working with groups such as the Chachi, who are seeking to protect their remaining coastal forests and mangroves from further development, while raising their standard of living.
The Chocó is one of the last lowland forested regions along Ecuador's coast, crucial for rainforest conservation and because it supports the coastal mangrove system. The mangroves, which are also endangered, act as filtration systems, cleaning water as it runs from upstream farms and urban areas into the ocean. Chocó forests support an estimated 9,000 plant and animal species, with more than 800 bird species, 235 mammals and 210 reptiles. The ocelot, great curassow and capuchin monkey are examples of the amazing wildlife that live in the Chocó.
While the Chocó forest once extended to an estimated 30,888 square miles (80,000 square kilometers), only six percent remains. In large part, the devastation has been due to the growth of agriculture along the coast, which began in the early 1900's. During the past 40 years, logging has taken an additional toll. During the 1990's, the shrimp industry replaced much of the mangrove ecosystems with pools that they use to raise clean shrimp for export to the United States. These pools are a major source of pollution and disease, contaminating wild populations of shrimp.
Today the Chocó forest faces a new threat: oil palm mono-cropping. Palm oil is used as food oil, for frying, in baking and as a stabilizer in processed foods such as ice cream, salad dressing and peanut butter. Non-food applications include use as motor fuel in place of diesel, in soaps and as an ingredient in plastics. To create an oil palm plantation, companies begin by logging all of the natural forest, devastating the local environment and communities.
Conserving the Chocó
Despite the easy money to be made by selling rights to community resources, the Chachi, along with other groups that have strong cultural ties to the forest, have resisted the temptation. Their forests provide a source of mangoes, papayas, bananas, guava and other vitamin rich fruits, as well as medicines, firewood and fibers.
Since 1997, C&D has been working with the Chachi and other cocoa farmers in the region, helping them to earn a healthy profit from the sale of their beans, and to acquire simple technological innovations, such as solar dryers that are invaluable for improving both productivity and quality. With support from the Rainforest Alliance's Adopt-A-Rainforest program and help from C&D, the farmers and families of the Chocó region are raising their standards of living while acting as good environmental stewards.