Welcome to the Center of Development in San Antonio!

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!

Welcome to the farm! Here the foundation has cacao, rice, fish, chickens, plantain, cassava, papaya, coconuts, and a myriad of other fruits. It is an “experimental” farm in that here FAGROTES tries different methods of cultivation with different species in order to ascertain those that are best suited for the San Juan context. This ability for risk taking is made possible for the foundation because of its funding through organizations such as Foods Resource Bank (for the cacao project) and the European Union and Mencoldes (for the rice project). The information resulting from their experiments is used to advise the farmers in the communities, such that they themselves can have the maximal benefits of the process of experimentation without having to take the risks, as this is not something many of them can afford to do.

 

This is principle area of the farm where cacao trees are cultivated. The shade provided by other trees, such as plantain, is important for the first couple years of a cacao tree’s development. This is something the foundation promotes amongst the farmers in the communities too, though not only for the shade they provide: at this stage the cacao trees are not yet able to produce fruit and so provide no income, thus the plantain acts doubly as an important subsistence and/or cash crop.

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.

The means of diversifying the species of cacao at the farm is not done principally through planting different types of cacao, but rather by grafting new varieties of cacao into already established ones. Once the graft begins to grow, the old tree is severed right above the graft so that all the energy goes into the new variety. An example of one species of cacao that has been successfully grafted into another is seen above. This is not only practiced at the farm in San Antonio, but it is something that the foundation promotes and has taught farmers in the communities—both through workshops in San Antonio and at their own farms during visits that the foundation makes to 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.

May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
Psalm 126:5-6
(FAGROTES’ Bible verse)
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