Photo story: cacao harvesting in Ecuador

Get involved in cacao harvesting deep in the Ecuadorian jungle and meet the farming communities that live and breathe the sweet stuff.

By Kris Davidson
Published 22 Sept 2016, 09:00 BST, Updated 7 Jul 2021, 16:09 BST
Cacao harvesting.

Cacao harvesting.

Photograph by Kris Davidson

Cacao beans are extracted from the pod, to remove the excess weight of the shell, by this farming community that lives in the jungly Flor del Bosque, near Carlos Julio Arosemena Tola, Ecuador. It's one of 13 small-scale farming communities working with Asociación Tsatsayaku, a group of 140 Kichwa and Mestizo families dedicated to producing quality cocoa, coffee and guayusa, as well as providing a fair price for members.

To unify harvests from thousands of small cocoa groves scattered along Napo River's flood plain, workers from chocolate-making organisation Kallari transport the moist beans to collection points. They often hike muddy trails, push dugout canoes down river or hire a motorised canoe to carry the precious cargo. Every other week — or weekly during peak harvest — workers collect nearly 50,000lbs of cacao. Kallari staff then buy the beans and transfer them to fermentation boxes.

Workers sort fermented and dried cacao ahead of chocolate production at Asociación Tsatsayaku. Structured as a cooperative, individual cacao growers bring their harvest to the association for processing. The produce can then be used in the creation of rich treats, like chocolate cake.

How to do it

Sumak travel promotes local community tours and initiatives. A private eight-day overland tour of Quito, Tena and Tsatsayaku communities — including accommodation, transfers, guided activities (in English) and most meals — costs £1,155 each (based on two sharing). Kallari and Pacari producer visits are included, as are chocolate tasting sessions. T: 020 3642 4246

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Published in the South America 2016 guide, distributed with the October 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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