Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Getchya ´self oriented

If you want pictures, scroll down. You want information? Let's talk.

My grandma is always the first one to read our blog. No joke. She sent me an e-mail today and said, "Good post, but a little scattered." And so per her request, we´re gonna do a run down:
  1. Alumni? I thought it was you two students doing service in Ecuador...
  2. Who´s Anna?
  3. Corn-what?
  4. When did this all happen?
  5. !!!
Adam and I have been spending the last month figuring out the detailed schedules of 9 lucky alumni who dedicated this week to service through the Alumni Association and the Public Service Center. We have chosen Ecuador due to heavy D-Lab involvement (among many other reasons). A particular reason was La Anna.

Anna Waldman-Brown is a physics major at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This will be her third time to Ecuador. Last January, she was here to scout out possible partners and to build up relationships between Ecuadorian organizations and MIT. That´s where Adam I entered.

In our month of work here before the alumni arrived, we attempted to make matches between the skills of our Alumni with the needs of Kallari. It is an incredible opportunity to expose the Alumni to the complexities of international development and partnerships, which they might not have had during their time at MIT. In the words of one alum (more or less), "in my day, there was not an interest in public service. My parents did not have a stable job during the Depression, and it was instilled in me that I needed a career. We all worked for companies and didn't have the chance to really engage with the international community like you students do."

Now Anna, Adam, and I are working as a trio to coordinate the trip's service focus.

We arrived at four different project groups. Each group will develop at its own rate, brainstorm, and come up with individual deliverables. We are excited to get some professionals working alongside Kallari.

In the IT team, we have Eberhard Wunderlich who has over 20 years (humor me, I´m recalling from memory, and so it may be more) with AT&T. Vikki Auzenne at the University of Minnesota who is building an IT start-up from the ground up (and taking classes on the side, mind you!) To design an appropriate Information Technology system to fit Kallari´s current needs with recommendations for the future. If feasible this team will also look into improving the Kallari website.

The "Growth for Planning Team" is powerhoused by Roberta Pittore, a professor at the Sloan School of Management. Her specialty is negotiation which is complemented by Erika William's experience in Silicon Valley. Erika has a myriad of skills, and her particular strength in this arena is her work with small companies in growing bigger. They will be advising Kallari on possible obstacles to be expected in the future as well as mapping out preventative actions to ensure a smooth transition into the expected rapid expansion.

The "Marketing and Tourism Group" is charged with two separate and integrated goals. (1) To design and draft print a non-technical brochure, in many languages, that includes the history and goals of Kallari. This brochure will be used for general promotion during presentations and other events. (2) To research, critique, and recommend how to realistically begin Kalalri´s tourism branch as soon as possible. The team will experience many trial tours to better understand details and logistics. They've got a dynamic mixture of Richard Millman, an aerospace defense company CEO for the past few decades, Joe Levitch, PSC Leadership Council Member and human resource consultant, and Deanna Griffith, designer by day and mechanical engineerg by night!

The Community Workshop group is blessed with the sweet and feisty Robin Millman who is a life-long teacher infused with passion and endearing nutritionist, Shahla Wunderlich. They will promote better nutrition and appropriate corn shelling technologies in a hands-on workshop with representatives from Kallari communities.

Right, so... onto the pictures.

The alumni climb off the bus to go on a contextualizing, educational tour

A street in Old Quito during our town tour.

Architecture! "Some church facade. I can't remember." The alumni are really absorbing.

Our first lunch together at the Choza (the shack) where projects were passed out and the chaos exploded.

Our presentation at the Ministry of Agriculture with Engineer Juan Carlos Barrazueta was about the cacao of Ecuador in the global perspective.

A piece of art by Ecuador's most famous painter, Oswaldo Guayasamín, who painted the emotion and story of his fellow indigeous. Read more here.

After a fabulous jungle native lunch of tilapia, yucca, and plantain soup, we took a picture with the Kallari staff members. Later we split up into groups. One went to Pachamama to have an exchange of ideas and the other stayed to work with the cafe's IT and design needs.

Oh, and here's Kathryn and some kids on the streets shining her shoes. After this photo was taken, the price was raised by double.

To wrap this up... in a short sentence: There's more than meets the eye. I wish I could write more, but the night is old! More explanations to come later and later and later.

The Alums Arrive

Hey from Quito!

All of the alumni arrived yesterday, and as you can see in the picture below, Anna's all decked out in her MIT gear for the welcoming. Yes, she is indeed wearing three name tags.

While we are in Quito, we are working towards preparing ourselves with the background knowledge and skills needed for when we travel to Tena. This means getting familiar with the context of Ecuador, learning more about our community service partner Kallari, and most importantly, learning each other's names. One of the things we are most excited about is the technology transfer of the corn sheller (pictured at the bottom of the blog on alovely ghanian skirt that Anna brought here!) We have been preparing for a community workshop for the 21 indigenous farming areas in which Kallari works. We plan to do some creative capacity building with a fun ice breaker, teaching about the corn sheller and its function, some critical thinking sessions about how to improve the sheller, a nutritional stint, and then a nice LUNCH!

Wait a minute, hold your breath. What?! That's a ton of stuff to fit into one day. And believe me, some of the alumni have been feeling the overwhelming rush as the ol' MIT firehose comes shooting back with loads of seemingly contextless information (thank you to Joe Levitch for throwing the MIT terminology out there). Remember that feeling? Course ya do.

So tomorrow, we will be focusing on giving everyone more direction, understanding how it all fits together, and how we can really focus on service to make a lasting difference.

The better question is.. how lasting can the difference be if our experts will only be here for a week?

Stay tuned....

Friday, July 16, 2010

It rained very hard last night.

 What a cool parrot!!!

Dear readers,

Yesterday was the best day of eating, ever.  Let me explain... We recently moved to another hostel that is off the beaten road and a bit further in the jungle. No one is around to cook us meals anymore like Vilma would do every morning, lunch, and dinner so we have to do it ourselves now.

Yesterday morning, we had a great omelet with tea sort of morning, and as we started to clean up, a parrot poked its head through the kitchen window. Window is a relative term since there are barely walls to begin with, just a few pieces of bamboo and what have you. The parrot was pretty cool, since we had only ever seen him from afar. His name is Roger.

It carefully entered the window and proceeded to poke its way down the side of a cabinet, using its beak as a hand while gripping tightly with his feet. It got a bit closer and you could see all the parts of its feathers and its little eyes searching the room ...


That´s right. Roger zeroed in on Adam´s foot and charged. Luckily, Adam dodged the attack, and I managed to jump out of Roger´s second launch.  I stood on a chair while Adam grabbed a stool to fend the crazy bird off. Down, Roger, down! But this thing was relentless. It finally caught hold of Adam´s shoe and began to nibble bits off. I could only imagine that those black pieces of rubber could have been fleshy nibs of Adam´s foot, and I was glad that Roger´s crazed taste buds couldn´t tell the difference. Shoeless, Adam backed away and called for the owner of the hostel. I stared at Roger from on top of the stool, and Adam strategically edged towards the door.

Finally, Señor Mazon came over to calm Roger down, and give him a piece of corn. Later that night, we had a run in with another animal, much less fierce though. Ants, marching across a bridge with pieces of leaves. 

The morning after, all that remained were the leaves. A trail as if the ants had all just decided to abandon work. I think the rain must have swept them away.  Before you stop reading, just take one more look at Roger´s eyes in that top picture. Not so cool anymore, huh? Just ... hungry.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

STEP 1.5 in "bean to bar": Dia de Compras

We forgot a step from our last post: step 1.5, which is to go around to every farm and collect the cacao from each farmer.

(1) Farm
(1.5) Buying Day and Collection
(2) Collection and Drying Center
(3) Chocolate Factory
(4) Kallari Cafe

Oops, but here it is now!


At 6:30 am, we need to be at the Collection and Drying Center.

"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:

We tried to entertain ourselves while we waited (not too hard, since we already crack each other up without trying) and one of the results was this picture:

ME, holding my favorite rock! Looks crazed, huh? It's 6:30 in the morning, what can you expect? (Hey Grandma Judy! It was like the worry stone from Ireland you gave me. A nice little stone bump to rub. PS I still have that!).

About 30 minutes later, Miguel, a quiet Kichwa farmer strolled up the hill at a leisurely pace. We all said good morning and sat quietly, enjoying the sounds around us. A taxi roared up the hill with Jorge in tow. As he got out of the taxi, he laughed. His eyes looked relieved, "And I was in such a hurry!" A few minutes later, Miguel picked up a grasshopper by its leg from the fence. We watched it breath and flutter.

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:

(Altoposuno above)
(Altoposuno above)
(Punibocana above)

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...

We were doing business. Don't you wish this was your office?

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

And all of it mixed in, yummy!

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.

Back in the Centro de Acopios, we pour the wet cacao seeds into the fermentation bins.

Within these three levels, the cacao are left to ferment. We put the wet pepas in the top third row where temperatures are monitored and stirred meticulously. The technician knows when and how to push the seeds into the second row, and finally the bottom row for a perfect process.

Here you see our work in a wooden box, and a solar drying bed in the upper right-hand corner. The clever design let's gravity do most of the work since the seeds are pushed straight into the drying bed from the bottom row as soon as fermentation is done.

Good night and farewell!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bean to Bar, har har

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!

To understand it all as efficiently as possible, we met with Kallari's board of directors. If the farmers are the cogs that keep this cooperative turning then Carlos, Elias, Fabricio, and Leonor are the grease. Just this past January, representatives from the 21 associations elected these four to coordinate Kallari's efforts towards its mission:

“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:

(1) Farm

(2) Collection Center

(3) Factory

(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.

(1) FARM

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 .

Here is a closeup of the inside of a solar house. Brooke and her itchy legs pour out the cacao beans. One of the possible projects while the alumni are here will be to decide whether it would be possible to design a solar-run fan to help decrease the time necessary for the beans to dry. Any takers? At the end of the solar drying process (yes, there is a machine, but they don´t use it), the beans are supposed to be a certain way...

Try your hand at this. Which of the beans below are well fermented?


Okay! The blue circled one is poorly fermented because it is not cracked and dried inside. This bean will still taste acidic when eaten since they are all still stuck in the bean´s flesh. However, the green one is almost PERFECTLY fermented.
Well folks, until later when we bring you (3) the factory and (4) the Kallari Cafe...