Tanzania & the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), September 2011
By Nathan Palmer-Royston, Theo Product Development
Our Trip Mission:
Cocoa farmers around the world face extreme economic and social hardship and nowhere is this more true than in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania. About two years ago, Theo started working on development projects with local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) in these regions. Our latest whirlwind journey got us ever-closer to sourcing great cocoa beans and improving the lives of farmers. Areas with the greatest need represent an opportunity for Theo to have the most meaningful impact!
With the support and direction of NGO’s and Theo’s technical consulting, the cocoa farmers have organized into Farmer Business Groups (FBG) and have constructed Centralized Cocoa Fermentaries (CCF) to improve the quality of their beans.
When beans are collected and processed in larger quantities and processed systematically, the end result is a cocoa bean with drastically improved quality and flavor. As a result, the farmers have a higher quality product that they can sell for a higher price.
Since the inception of our projects and the construction of the CCF’s we have seen the quality of cocoa beans from the same farmers improve by leaps and bounds. We think these beans will make delicious chocolate and they are ready for purchase from both regions!
On the Ground:
After 40 hours of traveling and coping with a whopping 10 hours of jet lag, I was finally standing under cocoa trees in Kyela, Tanzania enjoying my first taste of fresh cacao fruit. The sweet mucilage brought hints of mango and pineapple to mind. The hot humid equatorial air made the grey skies and mild temperatures of Seattle feel thousands of miles away.
My first smell and taste of fresh cacao!
During our conversations with different Tanzanian farmer groups (all through a translator, Joe [Founder & CEO] and I aren’t practiced on our Swahili) we discussed the benefits of improving bean quality, best organic practices for maintaining healthy cocoa trees, and details about Theo Chocolate’s mission. We want farmers to be invested stakeholders in our transparent supply chain.
One of the most surreal experiences of the trip for me was standing in the middle of the jungle in Congo, speaking in French, discussing bean quality and chocolate manufacturing with Congolese cocoa farmers. I never imagined that this was how my high school French classes were going to pay off.
Of course, no trip to origin would be complete without delicious Theo Chocolate for people to taste. Easier said than done. Keeping chocolate bars from melting in the middle of the tropical rain forest for days on end without refrigeration is no simple task. Somehow we managed to get the bars to our farmer meetings in cool, solid, bar form, but minutes after pulling the bars out of our cooler and passing them around, the chocolate turned to liquid in the wrappers. Liquid or solid, it didn't seem to matter to farmers experiencing their first taste of chocolate. Smiles all around.
Stay tuned for sourcing progress reports!