The consumption of chocolate could increase the life expectancy of the Dominican people and protect their cognitive functions, by reducing the risk of heart problems by one third and reducing strokes. Both are the leading causes of death by disease in the country.
Although scientific evidence indicates that chocolate has more than 40 beneficial health properties and that the Dominican Republic is a major producer of cocoa, exporting 80,000 tons annually and satisfying 60% of world demand for the organic type, the Caribbean nation not only imports the food, but barely consumes it.
To reverse these trends, the Special Fund for Agricultural Development (FEDA) is investing close to 20 million pesos in the construction of two cocoa collection centers in the municipalities of Paraíso, Barahona, and Guananico, Puerto Plata; and has delivered more than 532,000 seedlings and 5,800 working tools to 1,800 producers in different provinces.
The government agency, which works to turn Dominican chocolate and cocoa into a country brand, also built seven new nurseries with the capacity to produce 350,000 matitas every quarter, as part of its National Plan for the Transformation and Renovation of the Dominican Cocoa Culture, popularly known as “Tamo en Cacao”.
FEDA also trained more than 100 women in the production of high quality chocolate, with Belgian master chocolatier Emmanuel Bernard Noiret. Ten of them participated in the International Exhibition of Dominican Chocolate at ExpoBelgium, Belgium, and the successful National Exhibition of Dominican Chocolate was held last August at the Dominican Chancellery.
In line with the recent celebration of World Cocoa Day, last October 1, and as part of the local project to stimulate production and consumption, economist Hecmilio Galván, director of FEDA, invites the entire population to join this year’s regional chocolate festivals in San Francisco de Macorís, Duarte province, and Yamasá, Monte Plata province.
DR must increase its chocolate consumption
Chocolate consumption in the country is one of the lowest on the planet, at only 2.6 pounds per year, although specialists recommend an annual chocolate intake of 2.6 pounds per year.
specialists recommend a per capita intake of 6.7 grams per day, especially of dark and pure chocolate; and of one ounce daily for pregnant women, in order to favor fetal development.
“The population prefers imported, ultra-processed chocolates with a high percentage of sugar, so we are working hard to increase the consumption of native chocolate, rich in polyphenols, anandamide, caffeine, theobromine and epicatechins that help prevent strokes, Alzheimer’s, heart attacks and cancer, says Galván.
Citing publications from the American Chemical Society, the Cleveland Clinic and Harvard University, in the United States, the official emphasizes that chocolate contains antioxidant polyphenols that neutralize free radicals; and that it is also rich in anandamide, the Sanskrit name for happiness and a neurotransmitter that blocks pain and anxiety signals in the brain.
Other compounds in chocolate, cited by the FEDA director, are caffeine, which increases physical and mental energy; and theobromine, which lowers blood pressure.
“Studies indicate that epicatechins, antioxidants with a greater presence in dark chocolate, benefit the heart and reduce levels of stress-causing hormones. They also show that chocolate reduces bad cholesterol, increases good cholesterol and can even prolong human life,” he adds.
Regarding cocoa, the raw material for chocolate, the FEDA director reports that there are 2.4 million tareas planted in the country, in charge of some 40 thousand producers and that, of the 36,236 registered farms, 16.5% are dedicated to the production of organic cocoa.
The official also highlighted the enormous growth potential of the Dominican chocolate industry, represented by the firms Cortés Hermanos, Grupo CONACADO, Kahkow, Munné, Chocolates Khao Caribe, Chocolate Chin Chin, Cacaoteca, Definite Chocolate, Choco Punto, Chokamil, Forteza, Milz Chocolat, Bolitos & Candín, Öko-Caribe and Xocolat, among others.
Chocolate made by women
The participation of women in the development of agroindustrial enterprises is a central axis of the National Plan for the Relaunching of Chocolate Processing and Incentive for Chocolate Consumption, as part of the “Tamo en Cacao” plan.
The project involves 11 cocoa processors, with around 686 members and a strong female presence: among them are the Asociación de Mujeres Esperanzas Unidas, from El Seibo, in the province of the same name; the Asociación de Mujeres Unidas para Avanzar, from Joba Arriba, Espaillat province; and the Asociación de Mujeres Los Naranjos, from Castillo, Duarte province.
These organizations will receive financing from FEDA and the National Council for the Promotion and Support of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (PROMIPYME).
José Rafael Bueno, in charge of Agricultural Technology at FEDA, said that the Plan also provides technical assistance to cocoa and chocolate producers in the provinces of Duarte, Puerto Plata, Samaná, Monte Plata and Hato Mayor.
Consume what is ours
With its Consume what is ours program, FEDA seeks to strengthen national identity through significant improvements in the processes of planting, processing, purchasing and consumption of local products, for the benefit of customers, associations and producers.
It also seeks to increase wealth and employment by promoting micro, small, medium and large entrepreneurs, said the director of the government agency.
“The population must become aware of the value of national products and prefer products made by local hands, in order to save on out-of-pocket expenses for the family basket and increase pride in the Dominican identity, both in production and consumption”, concludes Galván.