“I’m very grateful for the knowledge that is being shared with us cocoa farmers,” says Laura María, a 29-year-old mother of two from Cañar province, Ecuador. “It helps support the cocoa sector and those of us in the supply chain.”
Laura is a recent graduate (2020) from a Nestlé Cocoa Plan agripreneurship school. For the last four years, the schools have been run in ten of Ecuador’s cocoa-producing provinces. They help farmers to upskill in either Pruning, Grafting or (from 2020) Plant Nutrition.
TEACHING VITAL SKILLS
Pruning, as we’ve explained before, is critical for removing underproductive branches to improve the overall yield from the tree. Grafting meanwhile is a propagation technique that strengthens plants and improves their growth rate, allowing them to become productive earlier.
“In Pruning, we learn how to improve the quality and structure of our trees,” confirms Laura. “In Grafting, we learn to work with a good selection of plants from the moment we start sowing and the innovation this year was the Plant Nutrition school, which, being online, was a change in the learning curve by bringing in the digital aspect.”
The new Plant Nutrition course teaches students how to improve the health of their trees and support the environment through soil analysis and understanding the macro and micro-nutrients present in the earth. The course covers over 25 hours of theoretical and practical sessions. Students on the pruning and Grafting courses meanwhile, cover even more ground, completing 60 hours of training.
Our hope is that the skills we are providing will not only increase productivity and sustainability at their own farms but also equip the farmers with marketable skills that they could use to help other farmers in the area.
The approach appears to be successful, a study across 2018 and 2019 of 56 graduates showed that 100% of them were using their new skills to improve productivity on their own farmland. Meanwhile, almost 40% of the pruning students were offering pruning services to other farmers, bolstering their revenue streams by an additional average of $200 a month. 11% were offering Grafting services and were earning an average of $300 extra a month.
With the addition of Plant Nutrition, we are now up to 612 students in 2020. While conducting a performance evaluation last year was difficult (with the global Coronavirus pandemic) we are looking forward to seeing what the future holds for this group.