• Origin Spotlight: Oko Caribe - Dominican Republic Agroforestry Farmer's Collective

December 07, 2017

Interesting Fact - Despite its small size compared to most other cacao producing countries the Dominican Republic produces more organic cacao than just about anywhere in the world.

We use agroforestry cacao from the Dominican Republic small holder farmer network Oko Caribe in the majority of our flavored bars (blended with Arriba Nacional cacao from Ecuador). All alone, it has delicate stone fruit notes, some super yummy hibiscus and tobacco flavors, and a really nice hint of toasted marshmallow.

The Oko Caribe collective was founded by two men - Gualberto Acebey Torrejon and Adriano de Jesus Rodriguez. They met and honed their cacao fermentation and drying skills during decades of employment with one of the world’s largest organic cacao cooperatives. In 2006, they started Oko Caribe, seeking out partnerships with the most skilled local agroforestry cacao farmers in the region and providing them with technical training, organic certification, and microfinance and personal loans for cacao-related expenses, emergencies, and other community needs At this time, Oko Caribe maintains close partnerships with 181 farmers, and processes and exports their cacao to the US, Europe, and Japan. Craft chocolate bars made with their cacao have won many awards internationally. 

Adriano Rodriguez, one of the owners and founders of Oko Caribe demonstrates a cut test to assess fermentation rates of cacao beans to a group of chocolate makers.
Oko Caribe co-owner/founder Adriano Rodriguez demonstrates a cut test to check fermentation rates of cacao beans to craft chocolate makers.

Oko Caribe's farmer partners live throughout the region of El Ciabo, a rich valley which gets plenty of rain and is home to nearly 1/3 of the country’s 35,000 cacao farming families. All producers in the Öko Caribe farmer network grow cacao using agroforestry practices, in which fields and farms are viewed as integrated ecosystems with dozens of species of plants, animals, insects, and fungi living together and contributing to the health of the environment. Cacao agroforestry preserves jungle habitats, and can sequester up to 41 tons of atmospheric carbon per hectare a year, while providing diverse food sources and income streams for farmers. Click here to read more about the amazingness of agroforestry in a previous #SlowChocolate newsletter. [LINK]

Collage of plants in Oko Caribe Agroforestry - cacao, breadfruit, cioba, avocado, kola, yucca
Crops in Oko Caribe collective agroforestry
Top (L->R): Cacao, Breadfruit, Caoba. Bottom: Avocado, Cola, Yucca

Oko Caribe farmers plant fruit trees like avocado, orange, mango, bread fruit, chestnut, and banana along with their cacao trees. They also plant hardwood trees such as caoba, cabirma, oak, acacia, palm, and cola trees, which provide shade for the cacao and fruit trees, and are a valuable income source when they grow large enough. Food plants are cultivated in the understory, primarily yams and yucca. And several farms also raise animals in their agroforestry systems - hens, goats, pigs, cows, guinea fowls, ducks, and turkey can all roam free in a cacao forest, living on plant litter and insects, and providing a valuable source of protein and income to farmers.

Animals in Oko Caribe agroforestry - rooster, goat, guinea fowl
A few of the animals that live on Oko Caribe agroforestry cacao farms
L->R: Rooster, Goat, Guinea Fowl

Oko Caribe collects and processes wet cacao beans from farmers in their network at a processing center located just outside of San Francisco di Marcoris.  There, the beans are fermented in wooden boxes for 5-6 days, and then sun dried, analyzed, and prepared for shipping by expert staff.

Drying and fermenting are time and labor intensive processes that make a huge difference in the final quality of the cacao. Through working with Oko Caribe, farmers are freed from the labor and risk of fermenting their own cacao, and Oko Caribe is able to focus on continually improve their techniques, which leads to higher quality cacao over all.

Drying cacao at Oko Caribe
Oko Caribe co-owner/founder Gualberto Acebey in a solar cacao drying tent - Image from Uncommon Cacao

We purchase Oko Caribe cacao for our chocolate through a  company called Uncommon Cacao, which is developing long term relationships with small and medium sized artisan cacao producers in 5 central and south American countries and connecting them with bean to bar chocolate makers around the world. They help broker our relationship with Oko Caribe, and provide farmers in their network with training, microfinancing, transportation support, and other resources.

Oko Caribe product specifics graph

Uncommon Cacao uses the Transparent Trade model - they pay more for better quality chocolate, and publish their prices to everyone in their network, which encourages farmers to produce higher quality cacao and to set their own prices. This leads to a huge increase in farmer prosperity when compared the commodity based world cacao market, which has the majority of cacao farmers on the planet living in poverty. Endorfin Foods is committed to exclusively sourcing cacao that is traded using ethical methods like this. Click here to learn more in a previous #SlowChocolate newsletter.

Farmer in agroforest with cacao trees, Oko Caribe
Farmer Arturo Martinez discussing an agroforestry cacao farm in Oko Caribe's network - Image from Uncommon Cacao