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Perhaps one of the most often cited phrases this year has been ‘supply chains.’ In March and April 2020, as the novel Coronavirus took hold across the world, we heard a lot about projected disruptions and difficulties for lifesaving supply chains of N-95 masks and respirators. Many of us experienced our own disruptions from difficulty sourcing hand wipes, sanitizers, and other hygiene supplies. The global commodities trade was also affected in a myriad of ways, including obstacles to get produce to markets and into ships and containers so it could be moved to processing facilities and eventually sold to consumers.
One of the world’s favorite commodities—cocoa, which is made into chocolate—was affected. The cocoa sector has faced many challenges, from limitations on travel and transport within cocoa producing countries, to delays in payment, certification, and a shortage of supplies. Under this context, Lutheran World Relief (LWR) and its partners worked on creating contingency plans to facilitate trainings for farmers. Part of these plans included the use of the LWR Cacao Movil (Mobile Cocoa) app and other technologies, which have become fundamental to developing farmers’ capacities and skills, including adopting good agricultural practices.
LWR organizes economic development programs in many of the poorest countries where cocoa is produced. Under our USDA-funded MOCCA program, which operates in six Latin American cocoa-producing countries (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Peru and Ecuador), LWR is reaching 20,000 cocoa farmers and their households in innovative ways.
Through MOCCA, we cascade information via telephones, mobile apps, and farmer organizations. Farmers can learn about risks, personal protection, and how to prevent transmission of COVID-19. We are also assisting farmers to ensure a continuity in their businesses so that their livelihoods are protected.
Cocoa producing regions in Ecuador were among the most affected by the pandemic. In May 2020, LWR received a grant from the World Cocoa Foundation and Fine Chocolate Industry Association members to provide farmers in our Ecuadorian programs with food aid and personal protective equipment, like masks and hand sanitizer, through our local partner ANECACAO, the Ecuadorian national cocoa exporters’ association. LWR quickly mobilized farmer networks to launch a campaign to amplify COVID-19 information from national health authorities and global experts so that rural farming communities could be informed about the importance of personal protection and social distancing.
LWR’s flagship Cacao Móvil app turned out to be a lifesaver. This app, which is used by more than 25,000 cocoa farmers across Latin America on their smartphones, provides simple, easy-to-use visual supports and training manuals on proper cocoa planting and harvesting techniques. As the pandemic began to reach Latin America, LWR quickly adapted the app to include direct messaging to users on the importance of protective measures, how to recognize the symptoms of COVID-19, and where to get tested.
LWR relies on our network of farmer organizations and cooperatives to help transmit information through communities and to identify questions and other production and marketing challenges that are emerging across the region. Since farmer organizations and cooperatives are some of the most important economic structures in many rural communities and vital forms of social capital, they are well-positioned to provide this service to their members. These organizations link farmers with information and support, and foster bonds that help withstand the stress of the pandemic.
In the Latin America region, the cacao growing countries of Peru, Ecuador, Brazil and Colombia have some of the highest rates of COVID cases and deaths in the world. Millions of livelihoods in the region are therefore impacted for health reasons and because of government imposed restrictions. Digital tools create greater efficiencies in community and supply chain relations, reduce information transmission time, and foster communication in communities. This can help the cocoa sector and farmers through this difficult period and in the future. We at LWR are grateful for the support from the cocoa and chocolate industry. This support allowed us to quickly re-purpose our networks and technologies to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, and we intend to continue building our efforts to improve the resilience and profitability of cocoa farms.
Carolina Aguilar Duarte is Cocoa Director for the MOCCA Project at Lutheran World Relief. Paul Macek is Corus International’s Associate Vice President for Rural Economies and Agricultural Livelihoods.