A Sweeter Truth: Making Organic Fair Trade Chocolate in Ecuador

It wouldn't be a surprise if after reading The Bitter Truth, on TreeHugger a couple of weeks ago, you were left with a nasty taste in your mouth. Tales of child labour, unsafe working conditions and an unbreakable poverty cycle sure do lessen the enjoyment of your favourite candy bars. But this Valentine's Day, while you are popping those heart shaped choccies into your mouth, I want to tell you about a positive side to the chocolate making industry. As I mentioned in my 2007 post I am spending the first half of this year in Ecuador working for the Kallari Association which makes organic fair trade chocolate and promotes the traditional craftwork of the Kichwa People. Kallari's aim is to help Kichwa cacao farmers and artisans earn a sustainable income so they don't have to resort to logging the rainforests or selling their land. While admittedly Kallari chocolate represents a tiny percentage of the huge billion dollar chocolate industry the story of how they have developed their chocolate is a fine example of sustainable farming, environmental consideration and self empowerment, which shows how local people can take control of their natural resources and use the profits to the benefit of their communities.Ten years ago the Kallari Cacao farmers were, like many others in the Amazon region, selling small amounts of beans for a very low price, 18 cents a lb, through several intermediary sales agents. Today in 2006 Kallari sells their beans for 78 cents a lb and exports directly, having cut out all the middle men. Thanks to a grant from the Canadian International Development Agency in 2002 Kallari was able to research better ways of fermenting and drying their beans, therefore increasing the yield from their harvest. They received an award last year for the highest marketable percentage of fermentation, 85%, that left Ecuador. As soon as they were producing more beans each year they could start negotiating with buyers directly. The first container of cacao beans was sold to the Swiss chocolate maker Felchlin in 2006. But as Kallari produced better harvests and negotiated higher prices for their cacao they realised they could afford to start taking the chocolate making process into their own hands by buying their own beans and producing their own chocolate bars.

As Judy Logback, an American who has worked with Kallari for nearly 10 years, explains most cacao farmers sell their beans to large companies such as Felchlin, but Kallari is special because it is one of the few that is taking on the whole process from the bean to the chocolate paste to the bar and furthermore selling the bars themselves to international markets. Judy says "each step closer to the processing and marketing aspects of the chocolate making doubles the income for Kallari" So not only does selling their own chocolate bars nearly quadruple the income from just selling the beans, but it provides employment opportunities for many members of the Kallari communities. How many organic chocolate bars have you eaten that have been made by the same people who grew the cacao beans just eight hours away from the fields they were grown in?

And so it was that I found myself last week learning how to make Chocolate bars at 3550 meters above sea level in the Ecuadorian mountains. A small town called Salinas hosts a chocolate factory which Kallari rents to make their own chocolate bars. One of the main disadvantages of not owning your own factory was made clear to me when I was told that we would be making chocolate by night, since this was the only time the factory would be free for us to use! Youths from the Kichwa communities, that have been specially trained in chocolate making, travel from the Amazon to the mountains. Enrique, 19 years old, has done this many times and has become quite an expert. His friend, 15 year old Suzy, was here for the first time learning how the whole process works, both were seemingly unphased by the sleepless nights. Each time there is a chocolate making exhibition planned another youth is invited to come along to learn the ropes. A production line was swiftly set up with the chocolate being taken from the conch machine, tempered, poured into the moulds, left to set and then wrapped in printed recycled paper then boxed up ready to be shipped. It was an extraordinary three night experience for me which was fascinating, fun, delicious, exhausting, and rewarding, but for Enrique and Suzy this is just the reality of making chocolate bars, that is until Kallari finds a way to build their own chocolate factory. This is a project they are currently seeking funding for and which we hope will be launched as a design competition in connection with TreeHugger and Architecture for Humanity's new project the Open Architecture Network.

This year Kallari have sold 8000 lbs of cacao beans in Ecuador, 27000 lbs cacao beans internationally and made 2000 lbs into chocolate. While the chocolate bars only makes up 5% of the 2006 harvest Kallari is aiming for 40% of their harvest to be made into to chocolate by 2010 and to have the price of the their beans selling for $1.50 a lb. Their most recent shipment was 756 bars to Foodeaze in the UK and the next 756 bars, that we made last week, are being sent to Boston to be distributed by the non-profit Alliance Exchange and to be sold in shops such as Cambridge Naturals. Meanwhile praise is flooding in for Kallari chocolate. Jorge Torres, Bio Latina's certifier for eco-produce in Latin America, has said that the Kallari's organic cacao fields are some of the most biodiverse he's ever seen, due to the traditional Kichwa farming techniques of perennial policulture. Hardwood trees, fruit trees, edible plants, medicinal plants and plants used for hand crafts are all grown together with the cacao. Christian Lapointe the Canadian Ambassador to Ecuador and a wine taster has said that it is the best chocolate he has ever tasted in his life and Bill Nesto a wine master and professor at Boston University has said that Kallari chocolate, in his opinion, could be rated as one of the top three in the world. :: Kallari

Tags: Ecuador

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