- Alumni? I thought it was you two students doing service in Ecuador...
- Who´s Anna?
- When did this all happen?
Architecture! "Some church facade. I can't remember." The alumni are really absorbing.
Architecture! "Some church facade. I can't remember." The alumni are really absorbing.
"Make sure to bring money for lunch, water for the day, and your patience. Tomorrow we'll be traveling to Kallari's communities and making cacao purchases from the farmers."
At 6:00am, I was still shoveling food into my mouth. Egg sandwich, yogurt, and whatever else I could manage to gulp while simultaneously trying to keep my eyes open. Here is the Centro de Acopios at 6:28:46, when we arrived:
Finally Juan arrived with the keys, and we took off in a taxi at 8:00 am. Lady Gaga's Bad Romance played loud and proud as we cut through the city streets of Tena. The taxista knew the neighborhood and his car well. It wasn't long before my head was bobbing up and down across the rough gravel roads, and rocks were flying into the underbody of the pick-up. This is one of the bridges we crossed over as we rushed towards the community. Steel bridge knowledge in tow, Adam reassured me that it would not fall down as we drove over it. But I was still scared..
The truck had 4 blue barrels, a tripod to hold the scale, a taxi driver, and 5 passengers (one of which had a wad of cash to buy cacao). We travelled from 8am until 1pm from the Centro de Acopios to Punibocana to Altoposuno and back to the Centro de Acopios. Both of these communities are on the community map that was posted on the ecoalum site, can you find them? We are thinking of returning to Punibocana for some community workshops... here is the view:
Cacao can grow in the forest without perfect rows of trees or extensive fertilizer or even insecticide. If you have enough patience and dedication (or time!) to brush fungus and ants off new budding flowers that will later be mazorcas, the red pods will dot the lush greenery on their own. Around the corner from the last picture in Punibocana...
Here, you can see Jorge communicating with the cacao farmers about prices and procedures. As Byron directed us through the maze of gravel roads, I hung my head out the window like a dog hungry for sunshine. Why would any one want to live anywhere else? Turns out, the houses in Altoposuno and Punibocana are on stilts for tigers. Other houses that are close to rivers use them to avoid flood damage. I slapped a mosquito on my leg, and realized that paradise may never be found. But as Adam recently pointed out, there's just about everything here: tiger meat, water, sun, farms of every kind, lush vegetation... and a whole ton of bugs.
In the first community, Punibocana, Byron greeted farmers with small talk about the harvest or follow up with business from the last collection while Adam and Miguel set up the scale. Jorge shuffled through his papers and ran his finger down the list that tells which farmer is organic and which isn't. Byron says that they already know everyone, but they check just in case.
Benoit, the student doing research on organic certification and the rainforest alliance stamp of approval, says that most cacao farmers "grow their crops organically by default. They can't afford fertilizer in the first place."
Alex, another student doing complementary research told us that "the certification is something that seems to be mostly for advertising purposes. The farmers don't understand what it means or why it is important. But people abroad are willing to pay for it."
Vilma's husband, Raul, says that Kallari is being fooled by farmers who say they are organic but use chemicals at key points during the cacao tree's life. Vilma chimed in and said that other farmers sell to the intermediaries behind Kallari's back... with the harvest from cacao trees that Kallari donated! Traitors, they said... but, back to the cacoa...
First, it is weighed.
This is noted. Kallari pays 40 cents per pound that is non-organic and 50 cents per pound for organically grown cacao.
The farmer signs in acknowledgment.
And is paid accordingly.
Passing up the cacao
Pouring it in the bins
We collected an astoundingly low amount of cacao this trip. But given that it is the end of the harvesting season, it makes a lot of sense. The farmers from Punibocana gave us most of their last harvests. In total, there was probably a little under 500 pounds.
After driving 40 minutes out to Altopusuno, we were welcomed by dead silence. No one was around besides a man and his horse. They informed us that everyone had brought their last rounds last week so we stretched our legs and congratulated one another for a job well done. In the past, collection days have taken up to 12 or 19 hours. We were done in a clean 4.
Good night and farewell!
Our first days here were like cramming for an exam. Pens poised and scribbling furiously about all the different steps it takes to get cacao from seed to chocolate: sewing, tending, growing, harvesting, drying, sorting, vending, and finally the factory.
We would like to discover as much as possible about the cooperative. This way our efforts can be pointed, well-planned, and most importantly, truly helpful. So we had to ask: What are your dreams, successes, difficulties, and failures? It all starts here with these mazorcas of cacao. Although some people might translate the word cacao to cocoa when speaking in english, others are more picky about their chocolate vocabulary. There is a difference!
“We are a community association of the Ecuadorian Amazon that practices sustainable agriculture to produce, process, and commercialize, at national and international levels, organic as well as artesinal products with a cultural identity; these practices are based in respect, equality, participation, and for the benefit our communities.
Additionally, we visited and experienced every step that the cacao goes through to get from farm to chocolate:
(2) Collection Center
(4) Cafe Kallari and other distribution routes
Today, we'll talk about our experiences in the farm and collection center. The next blog post will be about the factory (sorry, no pictures were allowed!) and Cafe Kallari in Quito, Ecuador.
That's a cacao pod, the main ingredient for Kallari's famous single-source organic chocolate. And as it stands now, the Kallari cooperative's main focus is the cacao market.
We visited a 5 hectare farm owned by Don Cesar. The farm is Rainforest Alliance and Organic certified so the cacao trees grow alongside other native trees, plants, and animals of the Amazon. You can read more about the Rainforest Alliance and its mission concerning agriculture here, but the main idea is that a bunch of NGOs got together to save the rainforests and promote economically viable alternatives to clear-cutting. One of those alternatives is cacao farming:
We are in the midst of planning two lectures for the alumni when they visit to give them more insight on the certification and its effects on the national economy and farmers. We're still waiting to hear on whether the lectures will happen for sure. The first would be from an NGO from Quito in the "Rainforest Alliance" that knows about the certification process. The second would be the real deal scoop from a student here on the ground in Tena who is studying the impact of Rainforest Alliance.
Organic just means.. no spray and more bugs. Youch!
As we mentioned in the last blog post, before Kallari, farmers would sell to intermediaries who had the market power to set prices. These intermediaries would buy cacao at low costs, dry it, and then sell high to chocolate factories. Without a way to dry their own beans, the farmers have no way to skip the middle-man and sell to the chocolate factory.
(2) Enter Kallari´s Collection Center
The cooperative constructed their own drying center. Now the cooperative buys cacao from its 21
associations at fair prices and sells directly to the factory in Quito and another in Las Salinas (near Tena). During harvest season, the Kallari cacao technicians go out every friday and saturday to buy it in bulk from their associations. We are going on one of these buying rounds tomorrow at 6.30 am so we´ll take some pictures and let you know how it. Here is a little more about the process of harvesting and drying on a website called Bean to Bar.
When fresh, cacao has white pulp surrounding the bean. It is the most amazing and addicting taste ever. On average, a farmer can earn 50 cents for a cacao mazorca like the pictuer below. Then the beans are taken from the cascara (shell) and put to dry and ferment in some boxes further up the hill (you can see them later in the short movie we made which will be uploaded as soon as we find an Internet connection fast enough!)
The white pulp dries off, the bean´s insides begin to crack and liquids drain out. The beans are then brought to the solar houses to dry for more time (up to two weeks). Like the NYT article says, the Kichwa were advised by Dr. Jorge Ruiz on how to build the infrastructure for and monitor the fermentation process .