What Does it Mean to be Socially Responsible? The Impact of the Producer Plus Program on Communities, Women, and the Environment
Cacao production is very important to rural economies of many tropical countries throughout the tropics in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. In fact, cacao is the second most important cash crop in the tropics. However, many of these countries do not have the resources to provide the majority of cacao producers, who are mostly smallholder farmers, with the proper assistance to encourage farmers to utilize more productive and sustainable methods. Ecuador is no exception. Economic and financial crises have exacerbated the difficulties faced in providing basic agricultural extension services for cacao and many other crops. In particular, a banking crisis in the late 1990s and early 2000s left the government with a very limited budget to provide basic services. Due to the crisis and the International Monetary Fund structural adjustment program, the government was forced to cut back on many governmental services, including the limited extension programs (Buck and Alwang 2011).
Our research examines extension efforts in Ecuador and their relationship to sustainable production and women’s empowerment. In particular, we study how the Producer-Plus-Program, which is being implemented by the cacao exporting company Transmar Ecuador, is developing a new paradigm of jointly marketing cacao and delivering extension services to the farmers. The Producer-Plus-Program will expand Transmar’s efforts from just buying cacao directly from the farmers to providing them with sustainable production certification, offering agricultural training, and supporting community development efforts. Transmar hopes that the Producer-Plus-Program will fill the vacuum for extension services in an effort to both enhance cacao production and improve the livelihoods of rural communities.
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This case study is divided into four main sections. In the first, we provide an overview of the traditional cacao value chain in Ecuador and how smallholder farmers have been sidelined from the market. In particular, we discuss women’s roles in the cacao value chain and the importance of cacao agroforests in providing habitat for endangered plant and animal species. We then examine how Transmar has worked to develop a new model for the cacao value chain that removes the middlemen in an effort to enhance the company’s financial sustainability while also providing smallholder households with fair prices and agricultural training and other support services. We then explain the methodology we employed to analyze the extension services being offered in Ecuador in the third section. Our results section provides qualitative and quantitative analysis. We share the stories told to us by farmers of unfair marketing practices and lack of technical assistance as well as results of a survey on the availability and types of extension services offered to smallholder households. We provide analysis of the impact that extension programs could have on women’s empowerment in rural Ecuador. Finally, we show how the Producer-Plus-Program is being developed to address these questions and in what ways it may be enhanced to meet the needs of smallholder households.