The Chocó-Project: sustainable livelihoods and conservation in one of the most biodiverse places on Earth

Note by Joern: The following post is by Felix Nasser, one of our students at Leuphana University Lueneburg. Our student community has many individuals who are very engaged in “making things happen”, rather than only studying. Felix has been involved with an initiative that specifically seeks to bring fair-trade chocolate to our town — Lueneburg, while also improving conservation outcomes on the farms where the chocolate is grown. You can support the efforts by this very engaged group of students through a crowdfunding campaign – but only for two more weeks. Felix shares the details below.

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After changing buses and 4X4s, we were once again at the back of a 4×4, finally getting closer to our destination: The small farming community of “Tesoro Escondido”. Crossing a turquoise coloured river on a ferry run by a timber company, we left behind the green deserts of palm oil plantations and found ourselves in forested mountains. A different atmosphere, different shades of green and toucans and aras flying over the tree tops. One hour later, we finally reached “Tesoro Escondido”. It belongs to the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena region, which expands from Peru to Panama and is home to roughly 200 species of mammals, 600 birds, 100 reptiles and 120 amphibians as well as 190 species of butterflies. Some of the highest numbers of endemic plants in South America can be found in this region. Like most biodiverse places the region is under severe threat. In Ecuador alone about 98% of native costal rainforests have been cleared, making it the most threatened tropical rainforest in the world.

Tesoro Escondido is situated in these remaining 2 % of intact coastal rainforests, making it a unique place that therefore experiences severe pressure through illegal logging as well as road and agricultural expansion. The destruction of these forests would mean the extinction of many endemic species, like the brown headed spider monkey. Thus a solution towards the conservation of its flora and fauna faces a wide range of obstacles

In 2015, I was very fortunate and had the opportunity to visit these last intact costal rainforest in Ecuador and to be a part of an innovative project that works to preserve it. I am a graduate Student of environmental and sustainability sciences at the Leuphana University and went to “Tesoro Escondido” on several occasions during my semester abroad. I met the people who started the Chocó-Projekt after they had been searching for a sustainable solution for years. They finally found only one: linking communities, Ecuadorian nongovernmental organisations and national and international researchers. Initially their plan was to save the forest and especially the brown headed spider monkey. They soon realised that this could only happen by considering the needs and expectations of the local communities.

They created a mutual agreement between cocoa farmers and project initiators (NGO Proyecto Washu, University of Sussex and buyers) to provide the farmers with an access to an appropriate market for their high quality chocolate, training courses and legal help on land right issues while farmers agree to save forests and its inhabitants and to use biodiversity friendly farming methods. This year they started to create a sustainable chocolate business that seeks to refund the project costs.

Anyone who is interested, please feel free to contribute to the project and its current crowd funding campaign. There are only two weeks left.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-choco-project-chocolate-and-conservation

And for those who enjoy a good and fair organic drinking chocolate, can do so with the SchokoLüne. Naturally produced in “Tesoro Escondido”.

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