THE BLOG

Rare Chocolate Manufactured Locally in Ecuador Making a Positive Impact for Farmers Globally

18/08/2015 12:49 BST | Updated 14/08/2016 10:59 BST

As a chocolate fan and blogger, I often find new chocolate from microbatch bean to bar producers around the world, sometimes in hipster areas of a particular city, or created by the truly passionate. Rarely do I ever find quality chocolate, roasted correctly to bring out the flavour of the bean at origin which is then turned into excellent chocolate. For some reason the process of roasting, refining & tempering just is not happening where the cacao is grown.

One of the issues in the cacao to chocolate bar chain is that most of the value is added in the first world, leaving the third world as a purely commodity-driven economy with farmers reliant on the price they are given for their cocoa beans which are then shipped off. The raw material is mere pennies compared to the gram for gram price of the finished product. This leaves farmers, growing the cocoa beans we need for our indulgent chocolate, ever poorer and often unable to increase yields or improve quality.

Organisations like Rainforest Alliance do go in to cocoa producing countries and work with farmers to help them reduce disease, improve farming techniques and improve their harvest but farmers remain farmers, reliant on commodity prices as well as the seemingly random quality of the finished product to make money. Some cocoa farmers don't even bother fermenting cocoa beans but simply sell them on to the cosmetics industry either wet unfermented or dry and unfermented in order to get paid faster. The week-long fermentation process means an additional week without payment for the harvest.

2015-08-14-1439561314-6982687-IMG_0760.JPG Cocoa pods made from cake
Image credit:
Judith Lewis

Cocoa tree plantations are currently being ripped up in favour of the more lucrative crops of banana and cane sugar, as are coffee plantations for the same reason. That removal of acreage of cocoa trees, which take five years to commercially produce cocoa beans, is part of the global shortage which is being reported so widely. It isn't just that as consumers we are eating more, it is that farmers are swapping cocoa for other cash crops.

Green and Blacks works with farmers in the Dominican Republic to ensure the infrastructure is in place to constantly improve the quality of the cocoa beans and it shows. Buying a 70% Green and Blacks bar now tastes miles better than it used to with flavours distinct to the origin shining through - but the value is still primarily added in Europe, and not in the Dominican Republic. Companies like Soma in Toronto, Askinosie in Springfield, Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate in Eureka, Duffy near Cleethorpes, and others buy direct from farmers, increasing the profit a farmer can make, but what will really make the difference is adding value in the country of origin.

Pacari is a company that owns 3,000 hectares of cocoa farm in Ecuador where they only grow Arriba Nacional - a delicious and flavourful bean under threat from the more disease resistant and higher yielding CCN51. The problem that I have with the bean is that the deliberately engineered hybrid CCN51 doesn't taste good, and the quality of the chocolate made from it is far inferior compared to traditional varieties. Industrial chocolate companies have pushed hard for its introduction in such areas as Ecuador, Peru, Columbia and Venezuela due to its high yields and disease resistance. Pacari is preserving the native Arriba Nacional tree to ensure high quality cacao remains available and to ensure this heirloom tree is not lost to industrial demands.

In addition to preserving the Arriba Nacional tree and its amazing cacao, Pacari is also the first and I believe only 'bean to bar' company in Ecuador. The not only grow the heirloom cacao, they also expertly ferment it, dry it, roast it and make it into organic chocolate using not only the organic cacao they've grown but also organic sugar. As their excellent chocolate has become more widely known, they have bought additional cacao from local small-scale farmers, ensuring the preservation of the heirloom cacao and helping farmers in Ecuador make a profit from organic farming and cross-pollenating their native Arriba Nacional trees, without any CCN51 creeping in.

Pacari's story of success is an ongoing one and a story that is thankfully not done yet. As they work with more farmers in Ecuador, they preserve more Arriba Nacional. This bean is the first one I fell in love with from Askinosie and has a special place in my heart. I'd hate to see it replaced with CCN51 much like some people hate seeing any genetically modified crop replace an heirloom variety. Instead of bemoaning and protesting their fate, Pacari is proactively helping farmers and people in Ecuador benefit by adding the biggest value to the chocolate bar in Ecuador: roasting, cracking, winnowing, refining, conching and tempering before packaging and then shipping out to lucky countries.

Pacari is one of a rare breed of chocolate makers who are making chocolate at origin. With so much value added after the cacao is dried it is essential that more chocolate is made in origin. The Grenada Chocolate Company and Chocolat Madagascar are two other examples of high quality chocolate being manufactured at origin but the examples are rare. In order to solve the problem of slavery in chocolate as well as farmers leaving the business more quality chocolate needs to be made at origin.

What do you think: Is this the right way to prevent the genetically modified CC51 from being planted all over Ecuador?