When it comes to sustainability in cacao, one of the important aspects is to do with the education of the next generation and their well-beings.
In July, I visited a project in Necocli in Antioquia department in Colombia. Several schools have been built in the area to improve the education of the children. The first time I heard about Necocli was in late 2015, from this rather cute music video sent out at Christmas by Casa Luker:
The area of Necocli and Antioquia department has traditionally been plagued by conflicts and drug trafficking. So there’s a lack of trust and social interactions in the community, and the children had become very shy and introverted. Also there’s a lack of steady jobs in the area (due to the instability in the region), meaning that the area has been very poor, and has been neglected by the government as there are more pressing priorities in the country.
In the early stages of the Chocolate Dream project by Casa Luker, one of the needs they have identified was in education of the children and how to improve the existing infrastructure in the region. As a result, they called in Luker Foundation (Fundacion Luker) to help to develop the education programs and techniques to some of the schools in the area. I was very lucky to have visited the Limoncillo school in July 2017, to understand first-hand what the project was all about.
I was pleasantly surprised that when we arrived at the school, as the children were warm and welcoming. Despite my lack of ability to speak Spanish, the children were approachable and their smiles were infectious, putting me at ease very quickly. I was told afterwards that the children were very quiet and scared when the project started a few years ago, due to the social instability and crimes they might have witnessed - something I wouldn't have realised, based on how happy and welcoming the children were during my visit.
The school was not big – only 2 classrooms manned by 2 teachers, with 60 children spreading over 6 grades. A huge difference to most schools in the western world. Children from the same grade would sit together round a table, and there were school books they could study and work through, while the 2 teachers would go round each table and spend time with each grade during the day. The teachers have really got their work cut out for them, but there is a variety of books and teaching materials that the children can work through during the lessons.
One thing that I have noticed is the awareness and education on recycling plastic bottles. The children have made hanging baskets, playground furniture and indoor decorations using bottles and other plastic materials. There are bins and bags to collect used plastic bottles in the classrooms as well as in the playground.
The school hours are from 7.30am to 12.30pm. While the school serves the local community, most of the children have to travel an hour or so each way, either on foot or riding donkeys. The road access to the school was rather poor – it’s muddy even when it’s not been raining for a few days, so I could only imagine what the children had to endure on their school journeys during the rainy season.
I also had a chance to visit the construction site for a new school nearby. While the government providing the funding and management of the construction of the school building, there are many other aspects that need to be considered and this is where the funding needs to come from private businesses. For example: desks, chairs, books, boards, and even water and toilet facilities etc are all essential at a school, and it’s not just a matter of building an empty shell. In addition, road access, electricity and other utilities all have to be considered - there's no point in building a school without addressing these other infrastructures. Government and various organisations (including private companies) have to all come together to work this out.
With the education of the next generation, it provides hope for the future in this area with a troubled past. The area is beautiful and hopefully some of the children will become cacao farmers – it’s not just a manual labour job with no education requirement. With a better education, these future farmers will bring new knowledge and modern agroforestry management to the farms, and in turn produce better quality cacao. In my opinion, this is one of the keys in ensuring sustainability in cacao, and an important piece of the jigsaw in protecting the future of cacao.