Sebastián Tiul Yaxcal, member of ADIOESMAC, harvesting organic cacao.

Sweet Collaboration: The story of a Guatemalan cacao farmer cooperative

  • Robin Schmid
  • Sep 8, 2021

The Association of Integrated Development "OX EEK" Santa Maria Cahabón (ADIOESMAC) is situated in the Tzalamtun community of Guatemala, perched on a mountaintop overlooking the beautiful forests of the Cahabón region.

The association of 43 smallholder cacao farmers, which includes 17 women, was founded in 2004 after encouragement from the local Catholic Church. By 2007, they established a centralized fermentation and processing center. Now, with 33 hectares of cacao operating under certified organic agroforestry systems, the group has an average yield of 700 to 800 kg per hectare of dry cacao.

ADIOESMAC, whose members are indigenous Q'eqchi Maya, champions inclusive leadership, with women, men and youth involved in all areas of cacao production, from business administration to community production processes. Having collaborated with brands like Scharffen Berger Chocolate and Dandelion Chocolate, ADIOESMAC’s focus on partnership building has led to improved community livelihoods with a business model based on fine cacao cultivation for diversified markets.

A cacao farmer holding a watering can is pouring water on rows of small cacao plants in a plant nursery.

Sebastián Tiul Yaxcal waters plants in ADIOESMAC's cacao nursery.

Strengthening capacity

Since 2016, Lutheran World Relief has accompanied ADIOESMAC in local capacity strengthening initiatives to improve production processes and organizational capabilities. Oscar Pacham Ica, president of ADIOESMAC, recounts, "Before Lutheran World Relief's support, our members did not have training in various types of pruning to rehabilitate cacao plants or in the application of organic fertilizers. Now, youth are trained, and we established a clonal garden and have learned management and harvesting processes, which allows all of our members to plant and establish their crops under an agroforestry system and increase production.”

ADIOSEMAC takes part in the Maximizing Opportunities in Coffee and Cacao in the Americas (MOCCA) project, a five-year, $36.4 million initiative across Latin America funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and managed by Technoserve, with Lutheran World Relief leading cacao value-chain activities. Lutheran World Relief supported ADIOESMAC to establish a clonal garden close to their processing center that allows farmers to graft highly productive and disease-resistant local trees onto their farms for higher cacao yields and greater resiliency. With training in cocoa grafting, seed systems and analysis of agroforestry models for cacao, the association has improved bean quality and enhanced planting and production methods. ADIOSEMAC producers also utilize Lutheran World Relief’s Mobile Cocoa (Cacao Móvil), a smartphone application that provides farmers access to a comprehensive guide to cocoa cultivation, covering subjects from planting and pruning, to grafting and treating plant diseases.

A young man moves dried cacao beans with a rake in the courtyard of a cacao processing center.

Santiago Chun Che, ADIOESMAC vice-president, moves drying cacao beans at ADIOESMAC's processing center.

Youth lead the way

Youth leader and secretary of ADIOESMAC Maria Luisa Thiul states, "It is because of all of this that we have been able to increase production and improve the quality of the cacao because we know that the members are already putting into practice what they have learned about the management of the plantations."

In 2017, ADIOESMAC won two Guatemalan awards for their cacao from the Waxaquib Tzikin Association, San Luis Petén and from the Kacaou Farm, Izabal. Then, in 2019, a sample of ADIOESMAC's cocoa was selected as the best cocoa in Guatemala and represented the country at the Paris Cocoa Fair. It was selected as one of the 50 best cocoas worldwide.

"It has been 17 years of effort, dedication and hard work. It is a process that has been carried out in collaboration with many cacao producers, with the goal of improving the lives of all members and their families in the association," says Oscar Pacham.

ADIOESMAC has established a network of youth community trainers who provide support and comprehensive technical assistance to partner families, allowing them to share their agricultural knowledge and the cooperative’s progress. The young leaders of the association are beginning to take the lead on cacao production and processing, an important advance for the sustainability of cacao agriculture.

Maria Luisa Thiul remarks with a smile, "The goal is to continue to involve more cacao producers and increase productivity and market demand. We are working for a future where we can generate employment and where men and women can be part of community development."

A young woman holding dried cacao beans stands in front of a courtyard filled with cacao beans.

Maria Luisa Tiul Ico shows the quality of ADIOESMAC's organic dried cacao beans.

Robin Schmid, Sep 8, 2021 email