Nacional Cacao Conservation Project

The Story

The revered and elusive Ecuadorian cacao variety known as “Nacional” traces its genetic lineage back 5,300 years. As of seven years ago, it was believed to be extinct. In the remote valley of Piedra de Plata we found nine cacao trees that are 100% genetically pure Nacional—verified by DNA testing. Each of these old-growth trees are at the end of their lifespan. When they die, thousands of years of flavor evolution will die with them. Partnering with the worlds finest and purest chocolate maker To’ak Chocolate, we want to save this ancient heirloom cacao variety from extinction by reproducing these trees through grafting and seed propagation.

nacional cacao

Nacional’s genetic lineage goes back 5,300 years ago in Ecuador, which is now recognized as the native origin of cacao. In recent centuries, Nacional reached global fame for its trademark floral aroma and complex flavor profile. Then in 1916 the variety was decimated by an outbreak of Witches’ Broom disease throughout the country, and a century of hybridization followed. By the beginning of the 21st century it was believed that genetically pure Nacional no longer existed.

Our Work

As part of our Agroforestry Initiative our goal is to nurse this special variety of cacao back from the brink of extinction through conservation, seed propagation, and grafting. Working side by side with To’ak Chocolate, Third Millennium Alliance and the local farmers of Piedra de Plata, will reproduce, plant, and manage 1,000 pure Nacional cacao trees in the Jama-Coaque Reserve. We will provide ongoing management of the trees for the first five years of their lives, until they safely reach maturity. Once fruit production begins in 4-5 years, we will harvest the seeds and begin another round of propagation.

Third Millennium Alliance staff, interns, and local citizens of Camarones will take part in this special initiative. We will share photos and news from the field as the trees are planted and begin to grow.

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