Young cocoa entrepreneurship stands up to extensive livestock farming in Panama

Young cocoa entrepreneurship stands up to extensive livestock farming in Panama

in News
This news is part of the following focus areas:
Judith Vanegas
Judith Vanegas
Consultora de comunicación del Proyecto Gestión de Conocimiento de la cadena de valor del cacao en Centroamérica

In 2020, an unusual year due to Covid-19, Bartolomé Abrego and other young indigenous Panamanians from the region Ngäbe-Buglé decided to take up cocoa cultivation with their families using agroforestry systems (SAF). Being experienced in this production model, 36-year old Bartolomé has been nurturing the spark of the young entrepreneurs who are planting a seed of protection for the environment in their community in the face of increasing extensive cattle ranching.

Rikolto is strengthening the acquisition of knowledge, experience and networks in the cocoa sector through a knowledge management project in the region financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Read more about the story of the young indigenous Panamanians.

In early 2020, 20 young people, including 12 women, came together to create the association Ñobä (AÑOBÄ) - which means cocoa in the Ngäbe language.

The association is located in the community of Valle Junquito on the border between Panama and Costa Rica, in the province of Bocas del Toro. Bartolomé and the members of the association belong to the Ngäbe ethnic group. In Panama, this ethnic group is known for its values of environmental protection and conservation.

For Bartolomé, the increasing number of projects (hydroelectric power and cattle ranching with logging) with negative impacts on the environment is worrying, as well as the fact that most of the farmers in his community are now dedicated to livestock farming, applying practices that are harmful to the environment.

"The idea of the group is to motivate more young people to conserve the environment in the face of increasing deforestation due to extensive cattle ranching. By growing cocoa under agroforestry systems, we believe we are protecting the environment while generating income," Bartolomé says.

To decide on the line of business, the young entrepreneurs informed themselves about global warming worldwide, prompting them to decide to cultivate cocoa in agroforestry systems.

In an agroforestry system, cocoa trees are in the same production unit as timber trees, fruit trees, Musaceae and others. It is a system that promotes reforestation and the diversification of food products, which can then be sold or consumed, as well as projecting the sale of timber trees in the long term.

They currently have 11,000 cocoa plants in nurseries on 10 farms, and in February this year, they started transplanting them to the field.

A total of 10 hectares of cocoa are grown in association with timber trees, bananas and tubers to generate income in the short term. They are also renovating four more farms located in Valle Junquito, La Gloria, Changuinola district, Bocas del Toro Province, Panama. Vielka Abrego, one of the 12 young women involved in the initiative, has been working every Sunday and every day off on the 10 plots for a year.

"We are doing all of this with our resources, to continue the work of our parents and grandparents to protect the nature that surrounds us," says Vielka.

Bartolomé works in the cocoa farmers' organisation Cacao Bocatoreña (COCABO R.L.). He has supported the young entrepreneurs with training and technical assistance for the nurseries, compost, agroforestry, cocoa pruning and disease control, among other topics.

He recently completed the Integrated Cocoa Management Course imparted by the Popayán Priva Training, Innovation and Production Centre in Guatemala. He is one of 16 young people from 8 Central American countries and the Dominican Republic who received a 100% scholarship from the Knowledge Management of the Cocoa Value Chain in Central America (GESCON) project implemented by Rikolto with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

"The course will enrich my knowledge to share and put it into practice with the group of entrepreneurs. In June I will be training 20 young people in grafting with the material from the diploma course", says Bartolomé.

The group of youngsters plans to make organic fertiliser from the farm's waste. Vielka indicates that in the future when the Ñobä Association is legally constituted, they plan to carry out tours of the cocoa plantations on each of the farms, showing the process of cocoa cultivation and the processing of organic chocolate.

Bartolomé continues to organise the fieldwork he does every Sunday with the indigenous youth in Panama, and while doing the interview a few minutes before entering his class, he only reiterates that they want to show other young people that they are the present and that with agroforestry cocoa systems they can mitigate yet another pandemic, the climate pandemic, and create a decent income for their families.

Want to know more about the knowledge management programme in the cocoa chain for Central America? Contact:

Ninoska Hurtado
Ninoska Hurtado
Coordinadora del Proyecto Gestión de Conocimiento de la Cadena de Valor del Cacao en Centroamerica | Nicaragua