Cocoa Malecu

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Cocoa Malecu: Supporting the indigenous Malecu to develop a sustainable cocoa value chain

El Sol, Costa Rica
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$10,000 - $50,000
Scaling strategies launched within the past 6 months:
Trainings, Consultation
Federations, Associations
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Our project aims to empower the indigenous Malecu to sustainably produce cocoa in diversified agroforests and to build up short, fair and transparent value chains for the high-quality products, including chocolate blend with native fruits and nuts from the agroforest.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if cocoa production would not be linked to child labor, deforestation, pollution and exploitation of smallholders but would be grown in innovative species-rich agroforests that have wide-ranging social AND environmental impacts.
About Project

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Trees on agricultural lands – also known as agroforestry systems – have the potential to contribute to climate change mitigation and biodiversity protection while improving livelihoods and incomes and providing invaluable ecosystem services at the same time. Our solution is based on tree main pillars: (1) facilitating the access to plant material and supporting the reforestation of species-rich cocoa agroforests, (2) knowledge transmission and training the smallholder in agroecological agroforest management practices and chocolate processing (3) facilitating the commercialization of the agroforest products (cocoa products and dried native fruits and nuts), linking the smallholders to fair and short export markets.


We have won twice the support of the Ambassador Program of the World Food System Center, ETH Zurich.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

With the financial support of the Ambassador Program, we have built a nursery in the Malecu territory to reproduce cocoa seedlings and other native neighbor plant species of high ecological and nutritional value, of which many are neglected and endangered species. Also, we have implemented workshop to train the people in grafting cocoa trees and fermentation of mountain microorganisms to increase soil health and fertility. These small activities of very low financial investment have had a huge impact on the indigenous families. They are proud and hopeful to recover their cocoa culture and create new job opportunities in the territory. Also, they are very interested to learn how they can grow their own food without expensive agrochemicals.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

• Created a manual about agroecological practices and disease management in cocoa agroforests specifically adapted to the Malecu and started to give workshops in the Malecu territory about grafting of cocoa seedlings and sustainable agrofoest management. Up to date, the indigenous have grafted 200 trees have been grafted and 800 more will follow, so that we can start with the reforestation of the first ha cocoa agroforest in November. The indigenous are paid per grafted tree, which is a highly valued additional income for them. • Build a Plant Reproduction Centre in the Malecu territory where the Malecu are collecting and reproducing neglected plant species of high nutritional and ecological value that grow well in association with the cocoa trees. • Built a network with local partner organizations and potential buyers

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

The project will help fighting the high unemployment rate in the territory, give a perspective to young people and increase the self-sufficiency and food sovereignity of the indigenous. Moreover, this innovative project is advancing knowledge and experiences on how to leverage the win-win potential of cocoa agroforests to generate a wide range of healthy food and simultaneously protect biodiversity and sequester carbon. This project can serve as role model for the global humid tropics.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

In the first 3 years, the project will reforest at least 28 ha of diverse cocoa agroforest. After year 3,the agroforest will generate a whole range of native and healthy food products, including banana and cocoa as cash crops. If the project is running successful in the first 2.5 years, it will prove viable to invest into the Malecu’s own chocolate processing facility. The global demand for organic and fair trade chocolate looks very promising.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Following strong social and environmental sustainability objectives, this project is unique of its kind in Costa Rica. We aim to empower the indigenous smallholders and have directly involved them into the decision making from the beginning. Most agroforests are species-poor. We design the cocoa agroforest to maximize its functional biodiversity and combine cocoa production with the protection of neglected native fruit tree varieties. This requires an innovative marketing of non-cocoa agroforestry products and we aim to build up fair and short value chains.

Founding Story

The idea of our project was born in the summer school on sustainable food systems of ETH Zurich. The founders developed together the vision to support their indigenous Malecu friends in Costa Rica in sustainable cocoa production. One Aha! moment that fosters our motivation is the huge potential of cocoa agroforests to simultanously increase livelihoods and improve environmental quality. In developing tropics, problems of poverty, social deprivation, soil degradation, biodiversity loss, malnutrition and poor health are all interlinked and contributory. Agroforestry simultaneously targets different points within this cycle, promoting human welfare and environmental resilience through enhanced biodiversity and other ecosystem services.


Jorge Calderon (full-time, local project coordinator, expertise in agroecology and tropical botany, community development) is an agroecologist with a diploma from the National University of Costa Rica. Noémie Graas (part-time, fund-raising, expertise in sustainable food systems, external communication, team coordination) is an environmental scientist with a strong backhround in ecology who is passionate about sustainable food systems.