Meet the next generation of cocoa producers — and entrepreneurs — in El Salvador
“I’m making three times the money I was before … I’m not risking my life migrating to another country without knowing what’s going to happen, what’s waiting for me out there,” says Williams Saravia, a cocoa farmer in El Salvador. Your generosity means that Williams, a 30-year-old father, can now stay in his home country, is able to feed his family of four and has even started saving money to build a house.
His life was much different just a year ago. Unable to afford to complete a college education, he took a job as a farm laborer. Working from sunup until sundown, the 30-year-old father earned $6 a day. He farmed his own small plot of land as much as he could.
With no other opportunities for work near his home outside San Miguel — El Salvador’s second largest city after San Salvador — Williams says his only option was to migrate to the United States.
The entire trajectory of his life changed when he enrolled in a diploma program designed to prepare young farmers to be the next generation of entrepreneurs in El Salvador’s burgeoning cocoa industry. The program integrates training in cocoa cultivation, business management and life skills, like decision making, problem solving and critical thinking.
Williams’ tuition was covered entirely by the generosity of people like you. Today, Williams is running a successful small business making and selling tablets for hot chocolate. He buys fermented cocoa beans, toasts them, grinds them and mixes them with sugar and spices to make a delicious product. His wife, Margarita, and children, 11-year-old Williams and 6-year-old Merci, help to package the chocolate tablets. The tablets have been so popular that Williams produces a fresh batch almost daily to meet demand.
“This has gotten this migrating idea out of my head since I know there’s opportunity here in the country,” he says.
Some of Williams’ classmates have also been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. Cesar Gaitan, 27 and single, was supporting himself by selling vegetables door to door on his motorcycle. Feeling that his life was at a standstill, he too was considering a trip north.
Today, after completing the diploma program, he’s building a new customer base for an organic fertilizer concocted from a formula he learned as part of the curriculum. The program opened another door for him: he just started studying on scholarship at UNIVO to become an agronomist, a degree that will take him five years to complete.
“The cocoa diploma changed my life. Even the way I think,” Cesar says. “Before, I didn’t have goals. But now I know what I want.”
Beatriz Villatoro, 28, attended a vocational college with the goal of working in the hospitality industry, either as a tour guide or at a hotel. But the tourist industry in San Miguel isn’t booming, and hotels are as scarce as her opportunities. For nine years, Beatriz searched for fulltime employment, all the while wondering if her prospects would be better in the U.S.
The cocoa diploma program offered her another route. Being a city girl, she didn’t focus on growing cocoa. In the weeks before Christmas, while shopping for presents, she got an idea: she’d fashion chocolate bon bons that people could give as gifts. An instructor at the diploma program saw her enthusiasm and lent her some molds.
Soon, she was running her own business, Le Chocolat. “I was a little hesitant at first because I didn’t know how good of a business it would be,” she says. “But everyone was telling me how delicious they were and kept buying more and more.”
Beatriz is putting her profits back into the business, buying more materials and molds she will use to create custom chocolate for special events, like birthdays or baby showers. She dreams of one day owning her own shop. She’s already toying with a slogan: El sabor hecho arte, the taste made art.
“I can say the diploma has been a great help for the youth. This has opened up a lot of possibilities for us young people,” she says. “This diploma changed my life.”