GUANAY, Bolivia – Bolivia’s Leco Indians produce some of the best cocoa in the world, albeit in increasingly smaller volumes due to climate change and competition for workers from the mining industry.
“The process of cocoa production is long and many have gone into mining instead because it is a quicker way to make money,” Choco Leco Association president David Piloy told EFE. “This has weakened our sector, but we will keep going.”
The Choco Lecos – who operate in the Amazonian town of Guanay, in the north La Paz province – produce cocoa of a quality that in 2017 earned them a place among the world’s top 18 at France’s Salon du Chocolat.
As recently as two years ago, the association had more than 100 members, but only 36 families continue to cultivate the bean, Piloy said.
Last year, the members of Choco Leco produced 2.5 tons of cocoa, most of which was sold to prestigious Bolivian confectioners.
Another problem facing the association is climate change.
Rene Marquez, the coordinator of a UN Food and Agriculture Organization initiative to aid the Choco Lecos, said that the quality of cocoa has declined over the last three years due to heat waves that hinder the processing of the product or extended periods of heavy rain.
“Sudden changes in temperature affect cocoa, which is a very susceptible product, and this has kept us from maintaining the level of production,” Marquez said.
Benigno Salazar, president of the country’s Cocoa Producers Federation, said that a broader market is needed to keep the cocoa industry sustainable and preserve the land from the environmental costs of mining.
“Mining is not renewable, but cocoa is sustainable over time when there are productive projects in place that help producers,” Salazar told EFE.