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Chocolate from the heart of the forest

June 26, 2020

Cocoa farmers in Panama are prone to poor working conditions and low pay. Meivis Ortiz is trying to improve their lot through an agroforestry project that pays women farmers a fair price.

Panama Schokoladenmanufaktur Mayamei Cacao
Image: DW/A.M. Goretzki

Panama: Cocoa growers protecting the jungle

IndMeivis Ortiz knows just about all there is to know about chocolate and its natural origins. She studied agroforestry in Costa Rica, specializing in cocoa, and spent years advising international NGOs and chocolate producers on growing this prized crop. In 2015, having seen how long it takes to cultivate cocoa, and how poorly paid the work often is, she founded her own chocolate-producing company, Mayamei Cacao.

Ortiz pays a fair price for raw cocoa, grown by women from the Ngöbe Indigenous group, and is less concerned with maximizing profits than making a social impact by empowering the women through financial independence. 

They grow their crop deep in the forest of the Province Bocas del Toro, a Caribbean archipelago that is home to 90% of Panama's cocoa production. 

Instead of monocultural plantations, these women use traditional methods to grow cocoa bushes among giant trees, clambering vines and the rest of the forest's natural biodiversity. This way, they thrive without the use of harmful agricultural chemicals. 

Ortiz says that only by working in such close harmony with nature, is it possible to achieve the very finest quality chocolate for her customers. 

A film by Anna Marie Goretzki