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Reinforcing ancestral Kichwa production systems in Ecuador through a WEF Nexus approach

Fostering clean energies by implementing a Solar Cocoa Dryer for the Kallari Association in Tena, Ecuador

Magdalena is the Chakra mum of the Kichwa indigenous people in Tena, Napo Province, in the Ecuadorian Amazon Region. The chakra is the family agricultural space that conserves Amazonian biodiversity and preserves indigenous traditions in harmony with nature. Around 1500 Kichwa families and the Kallari association practice sustainable agriculture by producing, processing, and marketing chakra products such as “runa cocoa”, improving community living conditions and preserving biodiversity.

Ecuador is the world´s top producer of fine or flavour cocoa (CFA), accounting for 63% of the global market. Therefore, as deforestation and environmental degradation threaten the Amazon, traditional Kichwa practices offer an example of sustainable agriculture and land empowerment.

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I have the land that I grow. I have everything I need.

— Magdalena Vargas - Chakra Mum of the Kichwas in Napo
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The cocoa drying process

Grain drying has historically relied on solar energy, through open-air, outdoor drying practices. However, fossil fuels are now the primary energy source for drying grains, resulting in a significant increase in energy consumption, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions. Drying is crucial in cocoa production for storage, distribution, and conversion into highly valued commercial chocolate. The optimal drying time for cocoa beans is between 6 and 8 days, but during the wet season, drying time can extend up to 21 days, leading to a deterioration in the quality of the chocolate end-product.

Outdoor drying requires more labour and increases the risk of bacterial exposure, which can result in poor drying and storage conditions. Worldwide, inadequate storage and drying conditions lead to a 10-25% loss in harvested grains. Hence, developing technologies that ensure the proper drying of beans using renewable resources is crucial for sustainability.

Solar energy to improve community welfare

70% of the Kallari association's income depends on properly drying cocoa grains. The traditional process of drying indicates drying cocoa beans on a large surface in the open air, leaving it at risk of bacterial growth. To speed up this drying process, farmers used greenhouse dryers and heaters powered by fossil fuels, generating high costs, pollution, and greenhouse gases. Therefore, before implementation of the solar dryer, cocoa production was continuously conditioned by weather factors and the use of polluting, expensive and non-renewable energy.

In this context, solar thermal energy is excellent for cocoa drying. By implementing a solar dryer, 340 families from 22 communities in Tena – including Magdalena the Chakra mum - will benefit from an improved quality of life, through a 10-20% increase in grain availability under the same agricultural production. Using renewable and cleaner energy will enhance cocoa quality and generate economic income for small-scale farmers while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This system allows for long-term storage without compromising quality, and provides a continuous product supply throughout the year, preventing the growth and reproduction of bacteria and fungi. There is also a substantial reduction in grain weight and volume, enabling better land use and labour management through grain storage.


Solar energy is the most abundant and convenient source for grain drying because it is relatively easy to convert this energy into thermal energy

— Esteban Urresta, Technical Analyst of Technology Transfer (IIGE)


Organic cocoa solar dryer

The Geological and Energy Research Institute (IIGE) of the Ministry of Energy of Ecuadro installed of a solar dryer system, which includes a greenhouse with drying tables and solar collectors on the roof. The conservatory complements the drying process, and the air is heated by solar radiation and preheated in the greenhouse before being sent to the drying tables to dry the cocoa grains. Centrifugal and axial fans distribute the air though ducts, while an electric backup allows the system to be used at night. The fan expels moisture from the table and transports the humid air outside. The system adjusts the fan speed according to the solar radiation level, maintaining a constant drying level to prevent the grains from drying excessively, too quickly or too slowly.


Our mission is to sustainably improve the economic conditions of local partners and producers through the production, processing and marketing of chakra products, while preserving the culture and the environment.

— Bladimir Dahua- Administrator of the Kallari Association


Chakra Kichwa Amazonian Kallari ancestral production system, indigenous practice, millennial activity that maintains biodiversity, sociocultural, economic and local governance dynamics, cradle of the Kichwas of Napo. 

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The Power of Autonomy

In Ecuador, solar radiation levels remain constant throughout the year, making it convenient to harness solar radiation. This system leads to a continuous supply of the product throughout the year, a reduction in packaging, storage and transportation costs, a significant decrease in the weight and volume of the grain, and economic benefits that improve the brand image. Additionally, the use of solar energy shortened the harvest period and increased profitability in the medium and long term, compensating for the additional installation costs.

The community is avoiding the emission of greenhouse gases and promoting environmental sustainability. As a result, new business opportunities are created for beneficiaries, improving their quality of life. IIGE and GIZ developed a solar dryer manual with preventive maintenance guidelines and future recommendations. Furthermore, the IIGE also offered a workshop on the added value of cocoa-derived products and the utilization of renewable energies in agriculture.

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The Water-Energy-Food Nexus

Together with national and regional partners, the Nexus Regional Dialogue in the LAC region, co-funded by the European Union (EU) and the German Ministry for Development and Cooperation (BMZ), promotes the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus approach to address these interdependencies and ensure the sustainable management of water, energy and food resources.

The WEF Nexus approach focuses on negotiating trade-offs, inspiring compromises and uncovering synergies to ensure water, energy and food security in the long run. It further promotes policy coherence and cooperation between all three sectors at the regional, local and global level. Since 2016, the Nexus Regional Dialogue Programme in Latin America and the Caribbean has been working across the region to institutionalise the Water Energy Food Nexus in public policy and planning in addition to demonstration projects that show the value-added of the WEF Nexus, capacity building activities and the identification of financing opportunities.

Further Information

  • The Nexus Regional Dialogues Programme

    Find more information about the Nexus Regional Dialogues Programme and its activities in other regions here.

  • The Nexus Regional Dialogue in Latin America and the Caribbean

    Find more information about recent news articles resources and activities of the Nexus Regional Dialogue in Latin America and the Caribbean here.

  • Kallari

    An association that produces, processes and markets agricultural products from the chackra in a sustainable way; improving the living conditions of the associates, conserving natural and cultural biodiversity. Find more information here.

  • The Nexus Training Material

    The WEF training material shall contribute to an increased application of the WEF Nexus approach in planning, policymaking and implementation. Find more information here.

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