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?


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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...


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