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How do you preserve heirloom cacao?

The Near Extinction of Ancient Nacional Cacao

By the end of the twentieth century, Ecuador’s legendary heirloom cacao variety, called “Ancient Nacional,” was believed to be extinct. In 2013, in the valley of Piedra de Plata, To’ak’s co-founders found hidden groves of old-growth cacao trees that matched the description of Ancient Nacional. DNA analysis provided by the USDA later confirmed that these trees are, in fact, 100% pure “Ancient Nacional” cacao.

In the years that followed, To’ak and its rainforest conservation partner Third Millennium Alliance (TMA) embarked on a project to pull this legendary cacao variety back from the precipice of extinction.

We took cuttings from the DNA-verified pure Nacional trees in Piedra de Plata and grafted them onto a new generation of seedlings, which are planted in a protected forest preserve nearby. We grandly referred to this parcel as “the Noah’s Arc of Ancient Nacional Cacao.” In practice, we simply call it the “Genetic Bank.”

From 2021 onward, the trees of the Genetic Bank should be able to yield enough budwood to reproduce up to 5,000 pure Nacional cacao seedlings each year, as part of a regional agroforestry/conservation project implemented by Third Millennium Alliance...pending funding.

Read about our social and environmental commitments (including how we are paying the highest prices to farmers, going beyond certification, up-cycling product, and protecting endangered varieties of cacao).

The idea is to distribute these seedlings to cacao growers in small agricultural communities in the province of Manabí, to serve as an alternative to illegal logging, cattle-ranching, and slash-and-burn agriculture. A main component of the project is to help these growers establish direct-trade relationships with bean-to-bar chocolate makers who are interested in sourcing extremely high-quality cacao and willing to pay the cacao growers prices that reflect the quality and conservation value that this cacao represents.

Check out our Heirloom Cacao Conservation Timeline to learn more.

Further Reading

The Main Steps in the Production of To'ak Chocolate The Different Grades of Ecuadorian Cacao

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