Cacao seeks to resurface in Costa Rica with fine and organic products, but also through tourism and educational initiatives aimed at rescuing the legacy of this fruit.
Cacao is originally from South America and little by little it expanded northward until it reached Central America and Mexico, where indigenous cultures consider it a gift from the gods, from whose seed a thick drink emerged that was mixed with corn and vanilla.
There are traces that Cocoa was already consumed in the indigenous cultures of Mexico and Central America 3,800 years ago, explained cocoa biologist Carlos Chavarría.
Chavarría directs the Rainforest Chocolate Tour in La Fortuna de San Carlos, at the north of Costa Rica, a tourist attraction in which visitors can get to know the cacao trees and fruits in their different stages, and later witness the process through which the seed is removed, dried and ground, to finally add hot water.
What the natives called “Drink of the Gods” is thick chocolate that preserves the rich antioxidant properties of cocoa that benefit the heart and blood pressure regulation, among other benefits.
Cocoa is also considered an environmentally friendly crop, which fixes carbon, maintains river basins, protects springs, and mitigates climate change in vulnerable areas.
Chavarría explained that commercial chocolates sold anywhere contain low amounts of cocoa and a lot of sugar, which is why he highlighted the work that is being carried out in small communities in Costa Rica to produce fine chocolates with a high amount of cocoa.
Efforts to Rescue Cocoa
In 2019, the International Cocoa Organization recognized the quality of Costa Rican cocoa, as an exporter of 100 percent fine or aroma cocoa, produced in rural communities, most of them indigenous, from the north, the Caribbean, and the south of Costa Rica, located between zero and 500 meters above sea level, which is the ideal habitat for cocoa.
The planted area in Costa Rica is approximately 4 thousand hectares and production is in the hands of 3 thousand small indigenous producers who use agricultural practices that are shared from generation to generation.
Costa Rica has a National Cocoa Plan 2018-2028 underway, a strategy that seeks to consolidate the cocoa agro-chain for 10 years. This plan includes a financing program from the Development Banking System, which aims to double the cultivated area of cocoa in Costa Rica.
The Development Banking System (SBD) of Costa Rica and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) is also executing a project to collect detailed information on cocoa farms through the use of drones, as input to design plans that allow for producers to generate more income.
History, Tourism, and Education
The Rainforest Chocolate Tour, in addition to tourists, is visited by primary and secondary students who are taught about the history of cacao that is closely linked to the development of Costa Rica in colonial times.
Chavarría reported that the cocoa bean was one of the first coins in colonial times and that it was used for about 80 years. With global development, cocoa production also reached African countries, which are currently the main suppliers of the industry.
The chocolate tour is one of the attractions of the northern part of Costa Rica, a country that is gradually allowing the arrival of international tourists, after six months of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Costa Rica’s tourism sector has been one of the hardest hit by the Pandemic because foreign visitation has been at zero, although domestic tourism has given some respite.