The Magic of Simplicity – An Osa Chocolate Story – Episode III in our Lifestyle series hosted by Michi. 

In 2015 CocoaEthika began to operate a handmade cacao processing business in the small cacao abundant town of La Palma before relocating to the countryside between Puerto Jimenez and Matapalo, small towns on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. Nestled on the edge of Corcovado National Park, this area contains the only protected region of tropical wet forest on the Pacific slopes of Mesoamerica and was described by National Geographic as “the most biologically intense place on Earth.” CocoaEthika’s unique location has fostered relationships with farmers, processors, transporters and all levels of the cacao to chocolate life chain. 

CocoaEthika desires to raise the standard of living for partner cacao farmers and prevent deforestation through developing a consistently ultra high quality commodity that can be sold at a premium. CocoaEthika aims to do this through continued education on improved farming methods that foster quality and sustainability while continuing to source and provide quality cacao genetics and subsidized, low to no cost organic farming materials and training. 

Over the last 70 years approximately 80% of the forests of Costa Rica have disappeared. In 1975 most of the area of the Osa peninsula was protected when Corcovado National Park was formed. In an effort to conserve land outside of national parks the Payment for Environmental Services system (PSA) was established here in 1979. The PSA provides payments to owners of forests and forest plantations in recognition of the service that conserving or appropriately managing the forest offers to society as a whole. According to this law, the services recognized are the mitigation of greenhouse effect gases, the protection of water resources and protection of the biodiversity and scenic beauty. Many suspect that the PSA conservation efforts may have not been successful enough for the Osa Peninsula. Why? The proportion of the Osa Peninsula covered by forest declined from 97% in 1979 when the PSA was established to 91% in 1987 and to 89% by 1997. “No deforestation was detected inside the Corcovado National Park itself, where most changes in forest cover were attributed to large gaps in the canopy produced by falling trees.” 

One of the main criticisms of the PSA is that payment allocation have discriminated in practice against small farmers and indigenous peasants, above all those without registered property title deeds. Given that only owners of forested land who can show title are eligible for the benefit, many small farmers and peasants have been excluded. These marginalized smallholders in turn moved towards making use of their land for what would bring the highest immediate economic benefit in order to survive. Many of these smallholders who occupied forested lands entered into 10-20 year lease agreements to make room for palm plantations, signing contracts that as expired became intimidating to get out of due to confusing “automatic renovation clauses.” African variety Palm plantations are the leading prevention of reforestation on the Osa Peninsula. There are an estimated 40,000 hecters of Palm plantations in Costa Rica. CocoaEthika aims to provide farmers with a beneficial alternative to growing African Palm through creating a quality cacao supply chain that would give them the confidence to make a change.

Laws in Costa Rica continue to be too lenient on marginalized land that is not deemed a national territory. As a result these same marginalized smallholders…in order to receive an immediate (albeit minimal) economic benefit… have also been taken advantage of by logging companies who do not discriminate when deforesting. Entire areas have been cleared in order to extract only one or two profitable species with the rest left to rot. By offering the economically and ecologically beneficial alternative of farming cacao among hardwoods and edible plants, a steady stream of income can be created for the Tico and indigenous farmers who depend on this land for their livelihood. 

CocoaEthika aims to promote diversified permaculture cacao farming to smallholder farmers and the indigenous communities of the Osa Peninsula in order to meet the rising demand for ultra premium cacao from specialty chocolate makers. 

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