In June 2009 we co-sponsored an event with a local NGO in Venezuela educating local farmers about the benefits of organic and sustainable farming practices. Back then I was just learning about the cocoa trade and had finished certifying the first processing plant in Venezuela as organically certified and at the event we spoke about the interest in the US for organic certified cacao. It was at that event that I first met Beatriz, the presdient of the Manutano Cacao Farmers Co-Operative; a female run cacao co-op lost in the tropical hills of the Caribbean coast of South America.
In 2009 she was in the process of unifying 50 independent small scale farmers under an organized co-operative structure in hopes to empower them to set sale price of their product and not be at the whims of buyers. What she lacked in infrastructure and experience she overcame with passion, dedication and hard work.
That year we had travelled most of Venezuela meeting with local farmers across many regions and looking to support and expand the organic production of Venezuelan Cacao. Beatriz soon convinced us that her town would be the perfect test pilot project.
Over the past three years we have supported their efforts and were the first company to market the Mantuano unique Single Origin Cacao Bean to US and European Chocolate Makers. Lucky for us the team over at Dandelion Chocolates fell in love with the origin and we could soon commit to buy their whole harvest at a premium paid directly to the co-operative well over the local market price.
This year we have signed a three year exclusive with Mantuano and we have committed our resources to the creation of their collection and fermenting depot. We are currently finalizing the last steps to create a drying patio and thus empowering the co-op to break the purchasing paradigm that has gone on in that region for the past hundred years; essentially making the farmers also businessmen and businesswoman.
Instead of selling at daily rates to local trader who are not as concerned with quality and sustainability as with price they now negotiate in advance for a set price directly with us and we commit 20% of the whole harvest contract in advance to support the local community in the pre-harvest and harvesting needs. The co-op can now purchase cacao directly from co-op member farmers and thus creates not only a traceability process for the region but also creates critcal control points for quality and food safety.
Our next step is to work to get them Organically Certified. This has been a long project but very satisfying to see it come together and change the lives of that community.