FAGROTES, or the “Weaving Hope Agricultural Foundation” (Spanish: Fundación AGROpecuaria Tejiendo ESperanza), is a non-profit organization in the San Juan region of Chocó. It originated as a branch of the social ministry of the Mennonite Brethren Church of Chocó in 2009. In an economically impoverished context affected by violence associated with the cultivation of illicit crops and environmental contamination due to large-scale mining, the foundation aims to assist in improving the quality of life for all the people of Chocó by reducing poverty, protecting the environment, and building peace. This is to be done through the communities and by the people themselves, through the promotion of community formation, strengthening, and participation in the development of peace promoting, economically sustainable, and environmentally supportive agricultural alternatives, such as cacao and rice farming.
FAGROTES strives to achieve this mission through various means, such as providing local farmers with training and technical assistance, resources and supplies, facilities for drying cacao and milling rice, accompaniment with crop maintenance, and more. A number of these services are undertaken at their “Centre for Development,” a farm in the small community of San Antonio. Though only one part of the foundation, it reveals many of the core elements of FAGROTES, which this blog will try to demonstrate through the example of cacao. As most of you will never be able to visit the farm, please consider this introduction as somewhat of a virtual tour!
If we move closer, it can be seen that not all the cacao trees are the same. There are ten different varieties of cacao at the farm, three of which can be seen above. After their second year (in around a year from now) they will begin to produce some fruit—though it will be a few more years before they reach full production. At that time the foundation will be able to evaluate which of the ten species of cacao are most beneficial for the San Juan region of Chocó, and hence the ones that they should be recommending and supplying to the farmers in the communities.
Here we have an example of the various stages of cacao fruit (pods). First are the flowers, some of which will develop into pods (left) and increase to full size over time (right). Once mature, the pods will be cut off and the fruit inside will be put through a process of fermentation and drying.
In this building the cacao (and sometimes rice) is dried, something that can be difficult because of the wet, humid climate of Chocó—one of the wettest regions in the world! The foundation itself does not produce much cacao—at least presently—and so this facility was built in order to help the farmers from the communities.
Once dried, the cacao is put in sacks and made ready for purchase. The local prices for cacao tend to be quite low so many farmers sell their product to the foundation for a better price. This is made possible because FAGROTES transports it to other regions of Colombia (e.g., Pereira) where there are higher prices. In the future, the foundation has the goal of creating a small chocolate-making facility whereby some of the cacao from the communities can be purchased, made into chocolate, and then sold locally!
This approach of experimentation is not limited to cacao, but is also used in San Antonio with rice, fish farming, and eggs. The hope is that the failures of the foundation will not have to be repeated by the communities, but that everyone will be able to share in the successes. For those interested in keeping up to date with the activities of the foundation—and not only those at the farm—please visit (and like!) the FAGROTES Facebook page, where new updates and photos are regularly posted.