The Meta department comprises a wide array of different territories distributed among very different landscapes that makes each one unique in ecosystem types and biodiversity.
La Macarena is an isolated mountain range located in the Meta Department, Colombia. The national park encompasses an ecologically unique meeting point for the flora and fauna of the Amazon, Orinoco, and Andes regions. Vistahermosa is a small rural village at the foothill
of National Park Sierra de la Macarena.
The Ariari River is what brings life to this biodiverse territory in the Meta region. It flows south-east down the Andean mountains, to meet the Guayabero River and generate the Guaviare River, one of the big tributary rivers of the Rio Orinoco, a basin of evolution, and dispersion of the cacao species.
Farmers from the nearby highlands of Andes and Sumapaz mountains settled in the Ariari River basin about 60 years ago. At that time, FARC left-wing guerrilla groups had occupied these territories and coerced farmers into growing coca leaves.
From the year 2000, the right-wing illegal paramilitary army started fighting the Guerrilla rebels in small rural villages along the Ariari to secure coca provisions. The municipality of Puerto Rico, where the producers’ association is based today, for several years was divided between the two illegal armies and became a warzone.
Since 2011, the United Nations was able to eradicate most coca leaf cultivations, substituting them with cacao plantations. Today, different winds are blowing on the river’s banks: top-tier cacao clones are ready to produce a high-quality bean and receive the attention of cacao artisans all over the world.
Thanks to a lot of investments and models of collaboration with the association and El Colaboratorio, some of the farmers have learned about organic agriculture, cacao genetics, and transformation processes. With this expertise, farmers like Don Epímaco were able to develop a unique fermentation protocol. Thanks to the longer anaerobic phase of this protocol, these micro-lots produce uniquely distinctive cacao, with an unprecedented flavor profile. Don Epímaco also become increasingly invested in rescuing and preserving ancient cacao varieties otherwise bound to disappear.
This region truly portrays an emblematic case of the farmers that moved in with an interest or necessity of growing coca leaves and now have migrated their activities into the cacao value chain. Assuming the role of entrepreneurial farmers in an agriculture that pursues a high valorization of their product.
The associated farmers of the region are veritable rural managers. Today, after all the difficulties, they can finally work towards creating stable living conditions for their families, all the while producing high-level cacao that requires knowledge and dedication, and is economically sustainable. While the coca farming model created deep divisions within the community, producers associations generate a strong collective unity of farmers committed to the sustainable production of fine cacao bound to excel in local and international markets.