Chocolate to Save the Rainforest

The cacao plant, Theobroma cacao, is native to the jungles of tropical America. It grows in a friendly, non-invasive way with other trees. Cacao trees can be planted together with native trees in deforested areas recreating new analogous forest and biological corridors. If the plants are well managed, cacao can also prevent further deforestation by bringing much needed income to families who care about their environment.

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Is helping community members in sensible regions of the Pacific side of the Colombian Choco to plant cacao trees. They grow the trees in a sustainable way and without the use of pesticides. By growing cacao of high quality, the community gets better prices for their product and at the same time, they preserve the rainforest and retain their lands which keep their families and communities together.  At the same time, they stop logging trees from the jungle to make money. Instead of logging or selling off their valuable land to outsiders that clear cut the rainforest to grow monocultures such as the African Palm, communities have a new alternative, now.
Learn firsthand about making chocolate by becoming a volunteer at the project or joining us on one of our rainforest tours. You can also buy 100% natural chocolate and coffee at the «Hosteria ITAPOA», Malecon Julio Izurieta y Calle Abdon Calderon, Puerto Lopez, Manabi- Ecuador or Chocolateria ITAPOA, Carrera 6 3-30 in Cali, Colombia. All proceeds from their sale go directly towards supporting the conservation and reforestation of the rainforest.
Get a product that has important values added… forest, biodiversity, culture and help the people to get back on their feet after many years of armed conflicts and violence, before they succumb to higher economic powers. We are on time…

Itapoa Project – Timbiqui , Colombia

Description of the situation

San Miguel del Rio Timbiqui and San Miguel de la Mar are two small communities of Timbiqui County in the Departament of Cauca in Colombia The members of these two communities,  around one hundred people, have the rights over twenty thousand hectares of land or fifty thousand acres, the majority is pristine rain forest and mangroves.
 During many years of war in their area between the army, the guerilla groups and the paramilitary, who have violated their rights, tortured them and killed them, they were forced to leave to other regions of the country, just returning after the process of pacification, which started three years ago bringing hope and a nervous stability to the region. Unfortunately, besides being black and poor, now, some of them have fallen in the hands of drug cartels, illegal loggers and illegal gold miners
 Right after the peace process began, Itapoa Project expanded the area of research to Timbiqui, with the help of local musicians who are friends and teachers of our music school for children in Ecuador. What rushed us into the area was the need to conserve the habitat of the Golden Dart frog, Phylobates terribilis and work with the local communities to find ways in the preservation of the forest of the Golden Dart frog which is one of the seven natural wonders of the world in danger of extinction.
Right away, we could identify that the lack of income was the main cause that would bring some members of the communities to sell the wood, go into illegal gold mining or chop the forest to plant illicit crops for the drug cartels. The violence to which they were exposed during so many years of war, now had returned due to the new cartels dominating the region.
Itapoa Project developed a strategy to help these communities come out of its poor and violent conditions. We began to replicate a program that we started many years before, called “Chocolate to Save the Rain Forest” that was being successful in another small community in Ecuador. The program is mainly to teach and help families to cultivate Cacao in a sustainable way in deforested areas. The idea is to improve their economies and stop depending on illegal activities.
Our work is to provide knowledge, seeds, technology to the families, as well as, to help them find certifying companies, willing to support them in getting organic and other certifications that would make their cacao attractive to international markets of sustainable products.
It takes several years until the cacao plants grow and produce. Right now, the most significant goal is to keep helping them plant the cacao trees until they produce. We need to find resources to get more seeds, equipment to work the land, seed drying facilities, etc.
So far, with our own efforts, we have distributed seeds to the families and given them some tools to start the cacao nurseries. But, that is not enough. It is time to plant the small trees in the fields and we are looking for funds to help them.


  1. Develop and implement a path and means for sustainable livelihoods  for a community of smallholders in Timbiqui, Colombia using cacao and cacao derivatives as a primary cash crop.
  3. Do (1) in a way that stops deforestation and encourage reforestation to improve animal habitat and preserve biodiversity.
  5. Help the communities develop derivatives from their crops to add value (added value).  
  7. Empower men and women from these communities as leaders so they become independent and proactive in the protection of their lands


The communities of San Miguel de Rio and San Miguel de la Mar live in very precarious conditions, making them susceptible to fall in the hands of cartels that operate in the region, which worsens they present situation by bringing violence and fear to the population.
Most of them have no income to send their children to school that is located  30 minutes away by boat. When they get sick they have to wait until a boat passes or the day comes to go to Timbiqui to see a doctor or buy some medicine at the pharmacies. Public services do not exist, such potable water, sewerage system, waste management, etc. Most of the garbage ends up in the river, which is also contaminated with mercury caused by the illegal gold mining activities upstream.
Some members of the community have migrated to big cities like Cali, Buenaventura, Medellin or Bogota hoping for better days, where in reality they fall victims of discrimination for being black, they are excluded from the society and absorbed by criminal gangs that introduced them in the world of drugs, prostitution and crime.
Itapoa Project had been working in the territory for the last 3 years supporting some families of the 2 communities to start nurseries of cacao plants and hoping to get funding to help them plant the tress in the field. So far, few families   had begun to transplant the trees to the field. All this is done with the guidance of Raul Nieto, the director of the project, and other Biologists who have been visiting the area and had done their part in supporting the project. Our approach is purely sustainable and organic and we only approve to plant the cacao in deforested areas that they have cleared before. We hope that specialized markets around the world would be interested in consuming chocolate products with added social and environmental values.
Normally, a sack of 50 kilograms of in the regular international market fluctuates around 70 US$, the sack of the same weight of cacao 50 kilograms but organic and sustainable could go up to 170 US$.
The goal of the project is to make the community sign an agreement not to cut primary forest anymore once they see that the financial benefits from having planted and produce cacao in deforested areas or previous coca fields. This is something that it has been done in the community of Tesoro Escondido in Ecuador, where we preserve habitat for another critically endangered amphibian, Chocranella mache, a glass frog and the critical endangered Brown Headed Spider Monkey Ateles fusciceps.