in San Francisco de Macoris
The cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao L) is native to the South American Amazonia, from where it extended throughout the whole continent up to Mexico. Cacao is a tropical tree from the Sterculiaceae family and is always in bloom; it has a smooth trunk and can reach 6 to 12 meters in height, although as a bush it grows 2 to 3 meters in height. The flowers and the fruit are born directly from the stem and branches and grow in an unusual form. The fruit is a pod and it has the shape of an elongated squash. Cacao has a rough bark, which is filled with a pink pulp. The pulp contains cacao seeds or beans. There are between 20 and 60 cacao seeds in each pod.
An oily substance, cocoa butter, is extracted from the seed of this plant. The kernel, once it has been toasted and ground, turns into a powder that is used to produce chocolate. The ingestion of chocolate produces a feeling of well being, due to its stimulant properties. Chocolate is rich in vegetable oils, which protect the central nervous system, significantly increasing physical and mental acumen.
Cacao trees grew naturally in the shade of tropical forests in the Amazon and Orinoco basins, thousands of years ago. The first known crops were in Central America, approximately 1000 years BC. For the Mayans, cocoa symbolized physical vigor and longevity, and consisted in a bitter concoction consumed exclusively by nobles. It was also used in religious rituals. Upon seeing that cocoa beans were used as currency and that the Aztecs ascribed restorative virtues to drinking cocoa, Hernán Cortes decided to produce it commercially and thus plantations emerged in Mexico and the Caribbean islands.
The cacao tree is delicate and demanding. It requires a constant temperature between 23 and 28 degrees Celsius, abundant and regular rainfall, as well as soil rich in potassium, nitrogen and other elements. The young sapling is particularly sensitive to the sun and the wind and must develop in the shade of other leafy trees called the “mothers of cacao”. The ensuing shadow must allow entry of a certain amount of sunlight, depending on the cultivation cycle. It is planted from sea level to considerable height, although the optimal range is from 250 to 900 meters.
Three varieties of the cacao plant exist. The Criollo (native) which represents the original cacao and of which the oldest plantations are from the 16th century. This rare variety is considered the prince of cocoa because of its superior quality and strong aroma. Nonetheless, it only represents 5% of world production because it is a low-yielding tree. The second variety is the Forastero (foreign), which makes up a very diversified group, more resistant and productive than the Criollo. The Forastero group offers an ordinary quality cocoa, used in the production of a less select category of chocolate. It represents more than 80% of world production. The third variety, widely known as the Trinitarian, native to the island of Trinidad, is a hybrid of the two aforementioned varieties. Therefore, it yields a more aromatic cocoa than the Forastero and engenders a more resilient plant than the Criollo.
Cocoa global market
Due to the great world trade volume of this bean and the importance that cocoa exports have for a considerable number of developing countries, in 1973 the International Cocoa Organization was created with the objective of managing the first International Cocoa Agreement (1972). Since then, there have been seven successive agreements, and the 2010 agreement is currently in effect. Cocoa commodities have experienced great fluctuations, especially due to the significant changes in the geographic distribution of the product.
Cocoa planting and production in the Dominican Republic
Cacao has been a traditional crop of the Dominican Republic. By the 1940s the country was already a major producer and exporter of the cocoa bean in amounts greater than 25,000 metric tons. Currently, the country has 150,926 hectares sown with cacao, which represents 9.5% of all our forests. The geographic distribution is concentrated in 28 municipalities mainly in the northeastern region, where San Francisco de Macoris, Pimentel, Hostos, Castillo, Cotui and La Vega contain more than 60% of the total sown area. It is also cultivated in the eastern region, with a total of 12%, especially in Hato Mayor, El Seibo, El Valle, Miches and Sabana de la Mar, and in the northern and Central regions, which contribute 10% of total production. Finally, the north central region produces 7% of the total sown area.
Cocoa exportation and its contribution to the national economy
Taking quality into consideration, the international market classifies Dominican cacao in four basic categories: Sanchez, Hispaniola, Organic Sanchez and Organic Hispaniola. The Sanchez is mainly exported to the United States where it is highly appreciated for its butter content and low price. During the last decades, the hybrid cacao product has gained market share in the country’s total exports. According to Central Bank statistics, exports have ranged from 20,000 tons in 1999 to 59,000 tons in 2009. The country was able to partially recover its export levels in 2011, reaching 50,994 tons with a market value of US$175.8 million, a record amount in the history of this commodity. Additionally, the country exported close to 7,880 tons of manufactured cocoa at US$7.9 million.
Organic certification is a procedure whereby it is guaranteed that the equipment used and the production process of a product, animal or vegetable, comply with the standards of organic regulation, with no harmful consequences to the environment. Organic production in the Dominican Republic began in the 1980s as a way of accessing specific niche markets in the European Union. Currently, it is estimated that there are more than 10,000 organic cocoa producers in the country.