ENSURING FAIR PRICES FOR FARMERS
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.