USAID Cooperative Development Program

USAID Cooperative Development Program with Small-Scale Cacao and Coffee Farmers

Participating Countries and Co-ops  

  • Dominican Republic: CONACADO
  • Ecuador: Fortaleza del Valle, UOPROCAE
  • Peru: ACOPAGRO, Oro Verde, Norandino, San Fernando

Other Partners

  • TCHO
  • Root Capital


Equal Exchange began this multiyear project in 2010 with the goal of strengthening its supply chain partners and engaging with them in new and innovative ways. We believe that for small farmers to succeed in international markets, their cooperatives must not only collect and process their raw cacao and coffee, but must also provide them with the technical assistance that helps them to raise productivity levels, add q uality and thus value to that product through improved postharvest procedures and quality controls, and gain farmer loyalty and patronage through capitalization programs focused on member education and equity.


In cacao we have formed a strategic alliance with TCHO Chocolate based in Berkeley, California. Together we have implemented six TCHO Flavor Labs, which are essentially mini chocolate factories that allow the cooperatives to prepare and taste samples in the way that their buyers do. In 2010, five co-op tasting panels analyzed a mere 25 cocoa liquor samples, and in 2014 those groups tasted almost 800 samples. We have worked closely with Peruvian partners to develop a new standardized Cacao Tasting Form. The goal of this form is to bring cacao producers together with buyers and chocolate makers so that they can speak the same language of quality, and form part of a conversation which they have historically been excluded from. This should also position producers to demand fair pricing for the quality of their product. We have also worked together to create e xperimental fermentation and drying modules, which develop and preserve of the unique flavors of the cacao beans from each region.


Productivity has been increased through the establishment of m odel farms and replication of the models. Average yields on model farms have doubled, and overall production at the co-ops with these activities has increased by over 60%. Key to the success of these programs is the emphasis on strengthening agricultural extension services provided by the cooperative itself, not by a project. We have used a train  the trainer technique to focus on increasing the knowledge of the technicians so that they can grow their skill sets and continue to spread the impact of the models long beyond the project. Finally, we have supported the cooperatives with e lite tree selection, supporting their efforts to identify and propagate local varietals that are not only pest and disease resistant, but that also taste great.


In capitalization we have teamed up with Root Capital’s Financial Advisory Services to do baseline diagnostics and tailor individual training programs to meet each cooperative’s unique financial and managerial needs. We have worked with cooperative experts to introduce member equity programs and mentored the cooperatives in the creation and maintenance of patronage. With these programs, members create a savings and invest in their co-op, and their business has working capital that allows them to grow and reduce their dependence on high-interest loans.

Investments in human capital have also been a priority of this program, whether through board and delegate training, or through community level workshops that focus on the linkages between healthy personal or family relationships to a healthy relationship with the cooperative that a farmer belongs to.