EatingWell - - SWEET POTATOES -

Emily Stone (be­low), co-founder and CEO of Un­com­mon Ca­cao, in Berke­ley, CA, and Sim­ran Bin­dra, co-founder and co-di­rec­tor of Kokoa Kamili, in Mbingu, Tan­za­nia

When Sim­ran Bin­dra started Kokoa Kamili, “I spent a lot of time sit­ting un­der mango trees with farmers, ask­ing what would be most help­ful to them,” he says. “Train­ing? Ac­cess to loans? Time and time again, they said, ‘You know what we’d be in­ter­ested in? Get­ting a fair price for our co­coa and our hard work.’” So Bin­dra set out to do just that. Rather than us­ing agents or mid­dle­men—the stan­dard prac­tice—his or­ga­ni­za­tion buys co­coa di­rectly from Tan­za­nian farmers. “They know the price we pay is guar­an­teed as long as they meet our qual­ity pa­ram­e­ters,” he says. “Our price is pub­li­cized on the lo­cal ra­dio sta­tion, in fliers we put up and by us­ing a town crier.” Emily Stone’s Un­com­mon Ca­cao op­er­ates sim­i­larly, and the two so­cial en­trepreneurs share a close col­lab­o­ra­tive re­la­tion­ship. Stone con­nects farmers in 14 dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the Caribbean and Cen­tral and South Amer­ica with more than 150 choco­late mak­ers around the world—in­clud­ing award-win­ning Amer­i­can mak­ers Fruition, Rit­ual and Charm School Choco­late.

Al­though the com­pa­nies op­er­ate in dif­fer­ent parts of the world, their goal is the same: to shorten the sup­ply chain and work di­rectly with

farmers on im­prov­ing the qual­ity of their co­coa—by spend­ing more time and care in the sort­ing, dry­ing and fer­ment­ing process—and con­nect­ing them to choco­late mak­ers will­ing to pay a premium for their har­vest.

That’s be­cause de­spite be­ing foun­da­tional to the cre­ation of choco­late, co­coa farmers live at the mar­gins, earn­ing roughly 6 per­cent of the value of a choco­late bar—far less than man­u­fac­tur­ers, re­tail­ers and the value-added taxes gov­ern­ments re­ceive on choco­late sales. A study by choco­late com­pany Barry Calle­baut and the French De­vel­op­ment Agency found that in Ivory Coast— the world’s lead­ing co­coa-pro­duc­ing coun­try—farmers earn less than $1 per day. Ad­di­tional re­search from Fairtrade In­ter­na­tional shows that even with its fair trade cer­ti­fi­ca­tion premium, many farmers still live in ex­treme poverty be­cause the prices they’re paid for com­mod­ity ca­cao (the “far­m­gate price”) are so low.

But thanks to Stone’s “rad­i­cal trans­parency” when it comes to fair pric­ing, last year farmers in Un­com­mon Ca­cao’s net­work were paid, on av­er­age, twice as much for their ca­cao than the West Africa far­m­gate price. That fo­cus on trans­parency, qual­ity over quan­tity, and rich fla­vor pro­files in the end prod­uct also gives farmers ac­cess to a spe­cial­ized market they would oth­er­wise not be ex­posed to. But Stone adds that the end of that sup­ply chain is just as crit­i­cal as the be­gin­ning: “We need con­sumers who care about choco­late to start look­ing at higher-priced bars as an af­ford­able lux­ury—one they choose to in­dulge in not only be­cause it tastes in­cred­i­ble, but be­cause farmers need that price.”

Above: Farmers har­vest ca­cao in Choroni, Venezuela— an area known for pro­duc­ing high­qual­ity choco­late prized for its notes of caramel. Co­coa crops are typ­i­cally grown by small­holder farmers— of­ten a sin­gle fam­ily work­ing on a mea­ger area of land.

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