Cacao, a new ecotourism offer in the Dominican Republic

Agriculture and tourism are allied to diversify as attractions for visitors to the cocoa regions.

The sound of crickets and the smell of unprocessed cocoa fruit fills the nostrils of those who have never smelled such a peculiar fragrance in a humid, almost wooded environment. A woman in a white dress with a floral print smiles and welcomes tourists visiting a cocoa plantation in San Francisco de Macoris.

Five people dressed in jeans and polo shirt walk into the cocoa plantation. “Did you bring repellent?” Is the question with which the visitors are greeted by guide Gregory Siri. They all look at each other and deny simultaneously. “Mosquitoes mutate,” he adds, with a chuckle.

The Dominican Republic leaves behind the white sand beaches and crystal clear waters and offers tourists agrotourism, an activity that encourages contact with nature while offering fresh, chemical-free products.

The report “Trends and Growth of the Agritourism Market” published in 2021 by Technavio, estimates that these trips will be worth US$4.33 billion between 2020 and 2025, due to the growth of the sector after the coronavirus.

For foodie Elaine Hernández, visitors will have a basic notion of the agricultural sector and appreciate the country from another perspective, “from the field to the bar”. In addition to recognizing the work of the 40,000 farmers, it benefits the Dominican Republic’s tourism value chain.

Chocolate stimulates happiness and stimulates endorphins, the hormones of happiness. A piece of a chocolate bar can trigger memories in its consumers, who choose between a bitter or a sweet chocolate to enjoy on an afternoon of 24 degrees Celsius.

According to the gastronomic expert, it is profitable for the participating actors because they promote and diversify the local tourist offer. According to data from the Ministry of Tourism (Mitur), in September 2022, 430,129 tourists arrived by air, of which 341,716 were foreigners and 88,413 Dominicans.

Cocoa production

In 2020, 896,367 tareas were allocated for cocoa planting, which allowed a harvest of 2,750,000 tareas with a yield of 0.62 quintals per tareas and a production of 1,712,560 quintals. For 2021, the Ministry of Agriculture recorded a production of 1,557,128 quintals of cocoa, compared to 2020, when 1,712,560 quintals were recorded, production decreased by 9%.

The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) states that Dominican organic cocoa is the leader in the global market, satisfying 60% of the volume of foreign demand.

With approximately 36,000 registered farms, farmers consulted by elDinero state that the average wage is RD$800 per day.

At the hacienda, Gregory shows three types of cocoa plants: forastero, hybrid and criollo. The first is more bitter, the second is more productive and the third is more free of pests, although grafts are often used to improve its productivity.

Agriculture states that the average price of the Sanchez cocoa totals RD$4,038.5 per quintal, while the Hispaniola amounts to RD$5,394.8, that is, a difference of RD$1,356.3.

He explains that the producers plant poppies between the cocoa plantations to provide 50% shade and fruit plants to sell and consume locally, such as oranges, bananas, bananas, bananas and mangoes.

Value

Being located 110 meters above sea level makes Duarte province a prolific area for cocoa production, covering 70% of all cocoa produced nationally. After the cocoa is ready between the March-May (80%) and October-December (20%) seasons, between 4% and 7% remains in the Dominican Republic to be marketed locally, while the remainder is exported.

According to data from the Directorate General of Customs (DGA), between 2017 and 2021, the Dominican Republic exported US$971.6 million for “cocoa and its preparations”. This means an average of US$194.3 per year.

During January-August 2022, Customs reports that this foreign exchange amounted to US$160 million. Of this amount, 29.8% is purchased by the United States with US$47.8 million, 20.9% by the Netherlands with US$33.5 million and 7% by India for US$11.2 million. Meanwhile, nations such as Japan (US$1.7 million), Russia (US$7,111.2), South Africa (US$4,330) and Qatar (US$2,103.2) stand out for buying the local product.

Hernández considers that cocoa is appreciated worldwide for its high quality and high organic production. However, the audit institution indicates that, during the first eight months of the year, a total of US$27.5 million was imported, which means 82.8% less than export earnings (US$160 million).

Cultivation process

For Fernández, cocoa offers the opportunity for people to get to know in depth the fruit from which chocolate is made. The cocoa pod is planted and in seven days it takes root, a stem that is grafted to a mother plant for an average of three months to improve the tree’s quality of life. The guide explains that in the first year the plant produces between 40 and 70 fruits, after three years this increases to 100 and 200 per season.

A humid forest with yellowish, brown and greenish leaves turns the soil into a natural carpet that serves as fertilizer for planting. Of the 24,000 plants that the El Sendero del Cacao farm registers, 80 are considered good mothers, or 0.3%.

After harvesting, the product undergoes fermentation in which the cocoa beans release proteins and carbohydrates, which allows the development of its flavor.

This is followed by fermentation, which takes between eight and nine days to complete. “During the first 48 hours, the fermentation smells of alcohol and then of vinegar due to the citrus released by the fruit,” explains the guide.Cacao

The industrial process continues, the one that grinds the almonds with industrialized machines, until they become paste. At a temperature of 24 degrees Celsius, the liquid gold is served and toasted to the tourist, who loses his shame and takes to his palate a piece of 60% and 70% bitter chocolate.

Some visitors complain about the bitter taste, however, Gregory emphasizes that the sweet chocolate “is made with butter”.

Chef Dianna Munné, reiterates that chocolate is the delicacy of the gods. “The product is worked like a hot metal that is melted and the plateau is cold and solid, whose temperature allows you to give unlimited shapes and create whatever you want,” she considers.

“Chocolate is not eaten, it is tasted,” assures the guide with white gloves clutching a piece of chocolate. Without chewing, he closes his eyes and feels the flavor on his taste buds.

Definitely, a chocolate bar releases anandamide, a compound that activates brain receptors that produce pleasure and mental lucidity, thus transforming tourists’ emotions.

Undertakings

Many farm owners have seen cocoa production as an option for entrepreneurship and to encourage agrotourism in their areas. This was the case with Sarah Mercado, the owner of Hacienda Cufa, who saw an opportunity in agrotourism.

She says that visiting cocoa farms once a year helps humans release a substance called phenylethylamine, which acts directly on the mood and as a natural antidepressant.

“We pair chocolate with another food because it always tastes good,” he says. This tasting allows the consumer a different bar depending on the commercial brand of his preference, however, it does not lose its essence because it is 70% pure cocoa and 30% of other food. He also emphasizes that white or “sweet” chocolate is more of a bar based on cocoa butter.

Learn More: DESTINATIONS

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