This past week I had the opportunity to visit several farms in the Dominican Republic. These farms are supported by Rizek Cacao, one of the companies we use to procure beans in the Dominican Republic.
On this day, we toured two quite different farms. Jose’s farm is large and well-structured while Pedro’s is smaller and less planned. Both provide a unique insight into the issues around cacao growing and production.
Jose’s farm was about 30 minutes outside the city. The trip was easy as the roads were in very good condition. The farm is about 50 acres with a large staff of production workers. Jose is the owner and acts as the manager of the farm. He has hired hands that perform farming tasks. I saw men weeding, cutting down pods and placing them in large piles. The pile of pods will be split open the following day so the beans can be transported while still fresh.
Jose’s farm is well laid out with the cocoa trees in neat rows and covered with large palms for shade. As the farm is organic and sustainable, there were no chemicals nor plastics visible. Trash bags were placed around the farm to collect any refuse. Water bottles are ubiquitous in the Dominican Republic as the water is not suitable for drinking. I did not see any bottles every after walking over 45 minutes all over the farm. It was very well tended. I believe the cocoa is also very good as Jose seems to be well compensated. He drove a new Toyota pickup truck - a fixture on the roads in most third world countries.
Jose described the pruning process where old branches are trimmed off after the harvest. The pruning allows more sunlight into the farm which prevents mold and fungus. Since the farm is organic, he must be proactive in treating disease and pests. Snakes are brought in to keep rats under control and food is provided for the birds so they don’t eat the cocoa pods nor attacking the snakes. It is a well thought out environment. The workers were weeding as weeds draw moisture and nutrients away from the trees. The shelled pods are left on the ground to provide food for the birds and eventually become mulch. Cocoa production is really a zero-waste process.
Pedro de Aza’s farm couldn’t be more different. It was 45 minutes further from Jose’s and on poor roads. We passed through numerous villages on the way there. Often we had to slow down to a crawl so the potholes did not damage our car. Pedro’s farm is at a much higher elevation than Jose’s so the car had to work quite hard to climb up the hills. We had 11 people in a Kia minivan with a diesel engine and manual transmission. The minivan was not designed for this kind of off-road adventure.
Pedro was very gracious to allow us into his home and farm. He explained that he was born in a house across the street and bought this farm in 1982. His home is modest and humble. In front of the house was an old drying bed but it is no longer in use.
Rizek Cacoa purchases the wet beans from him and processes them at their central facility. It is on very hilly terrain so he was in excellent shape from climbing the hills every day. He was one of the founders of the farmers cooperative and foundation called FUPAROCA and served as a board member for several years. I will have another blog about FUPAROCA and the work they provide to the farming community.
Pedro led a group of us down into his farm. None of us could keep up with him even though he is quite a bit older than the rest of us. The farm is much more haphazard and random in its layout. The hilly terrain would make straight rows of trees very difficult to maintain. Instead, nature can take its course and trees grow wild. The trees are pruned or removed so the growth does not become too crowded. There were several species of beautiful red flowers. One tree he was quite proud of and commented that he “wished all of his trees produced as well as this one.” The tree had more pods than I have seen on one tree before.
Pedro’s farm is also organic and sustainable. As with Jose’s farm, there was no plastic nor pesticides visible. The farm was clean of trash and debris which is a big contrast to the surrounding countryside. Litter is a big problem in the country and the side of the road and ditches are filled with trash. To see a farm so clean was a welcome relief.
It was obvious from my visits to both farms that these farmers take pride and care in the product they grow. They understood that growing organic and sustainable crops command a higher price so it is worth doing things right.