Growth of a Community
An impoverished, unorganized collection of farmers trying to sell coffee beans or whatever they can to feed their families. Unaware of the value of their cacao, they had never even tasted chocolate...
They now ferment and dry their own cacao beans, are developing gender equality in business and community leadership, and are learning to work together to create a truly self-supporting community...
Electricity and roads, (things we take for granted here in the US), more trees, farms, beans and economic opportunities, and eventually the type of legacy that every parent wants to hand down to their kids...
The people of La Colonia were a loosely joined community of hard working farmers in the mountainous rainforests just outside of Rancho Grande. Although the farmers respected each other, their lack of cooperation and organization made them an easy target for unscrupulous buyers.
While respectful and loyal to their families, they still operated under outdated gender roles. Women were not included in business activities, which in turn limited their productivity by half.
With no roads or electricity, they were cut off from industry knowledge and market information that could help them earn a fair price for their harvests. In a form of modern subjugation, their main source of income was coffee beans, from which they earned only about $1.66 per day.
When the market was down or the buyers were exceptionally stingy, the farmers would try to supplement their income by selling citrus or corn, and occasionally cacao. With no idea of the quality and value of their cacao, they mainly used their trees to shade their coffee plants. Most of them had never even tasted chocolate.
When they did sell their cacao, they sold only the pods or wet mass. Lacking the knowledge and equipment to ferment or dry their own beans, they gave away most of the profits to freelance buyers (for well below fair market price) who then sold their cacao to large conglomerates.
Through the course of two years of immersion in Nicaragua, and living and working side by side with the farmers of the La Colonia, we have earned their trust and been allowed to present them with a wide array of opportunities from which to choose.
An Organized Community
After months of community meetings, discussions, and educational events, the families of the La Colonia communities have decided to work together on farming and processing their fine cacao as their new primary revenue stream.
With the help of industry experts and agricultural specialists (and plenty of experimentation), the farmers have learned how to best harvest, ferment, dry, test, and store their cacao beans. They are now able to earn a price commensurate with the quality of their cacao.
They are overcoming old gender stereotypes and now work side by side with the women of their communities, some of whom have attained leadership roles. More than just increasing productivity, they are now creating role models that will inspire generations to come.
Through community meetings and consensus-based decision making, they have selected roads and electricity as their first two main goals.
One of their new community leaders, Ms. Elucadia, is coordinating their first road building effort with over 30 local farmers providing the labor.
With only a natural run-off path from the farms to the community center, the farmers and their families are forced to load 100 lb. sacks on their backs, or a horse if they're lucky, and carefully wind their way down the mountainside.
We continue to maintain a presence in the community and provide ongoing support, education, and technical resources as needed.
But what really makes everything work is you, the artisan chocolate maker. The families of La Colonia don't want your charity, they want your business. And they are prepared to earn it.
Exciting Opportunities Ahead
With the proceeds from the sale of their cacao, the farmers hope to plant another 25,000 trinitario trees in March 2018.
All of the kids in the community are doing homework by candle light. Bringing electricity to their homes requires heavy equipment, and that requires roads.
Ms. Elucadia is in charge of the road building effort with over 30 farmers providing the labor. They will be prepping and grading a one mile natural runoff path with 20 tons of clay and surfacing it with 20 tons of gravel..
Facing challenges from the weather and a lack of automated equipment, it could take over 6 months and $5,000 just to complete the first road, and another 6 months and $10,000 just to bring electricity to the first 40 homes.
Due to the treacherous conditions of the current paths, almost everything is brought down on foot. With the addition of more roads, a small pick up truck can be hired by the community to enter the hills and help the families bring their produce down to the main road where it can be processed.
As the community continues to grow and prosper, so too will their opportunities. They may wish to take over the exporting and maybe even distribution of their cacao.
The point is, it's their choice. Whatever they decide, we will be there to help them achieve their goals and continue to bring you some of the finest cacao in the world.