Wild, Ethical and Sustainable Chocolate

Sustainable Forest-to-Bar Chocolate

Reading the articles online at TheChocolateLife by Clay Gordon and following his ChocolateLifeNews feed gives a person a great overview about what is happening in the world with chocolate and cocoa. There is really much more to know about chocolate than most people care to spend the time to learn; that is unless you develop an interest in chocolate for its health benefits, as a candy, a food, as a connoisseur of chocolate, or in my case as a coordinator of a chocolate making cooperative.

Reading the news feed we see three main topics that have been repeating themselves recently 1) innovative marketing of chocolate, 2) general industry news and 3) sustainability; while the first two topics are expected, the third, sustainability is a new complex issue that touches on the environment, human rights, equality, ethical values, the economy, climate change, deforestation, corruption, child labor, slavery, graft and predatory market practices.

Cocoa beans after drying in the sun.
Over 30 miles from the highway bagging up sustainable wild cacao that has been cured and dried.

Sustainable Chocolate

Sustainable chocolate ideally is free of all the problems that exist in the cocoa supply chain ending with a happy consumer that feels that they have done the right thing by selecting and purchasing the most responsible and sustainable chocolate. Public awareness is mounting, governments are involved, the news media is reporting about the problems that exist in the cocoa industry and new documentaries have been developed about the cocoa trade in Africa as being unsustainable showing its impact on the lives of children (as young as eight years old) and adolescent youth who have very few options.

Ideally "sustainable cacao" should earn farmers $2.70 to $3.90 per kilogram or more for their cacao beginning as early as this month; a price that is considered fair and sustainable by the World Cocoa Organization for ordinary cocoa; the price in Central America, South America and Asia for aromatic and fine cacao should be higher. In parts of Africa and other places in the world, "who will get this money?" then becomes the question because it is most often the farm owner that is using trafficked child labor or low-wage cocoa workers that will be getting the better price with little if any improvement for the victims of wage exploitation or slavery. In Africa however, it seems to also have moral and ethical implications combined with a lack of law enforcement, a good social model and understanding of human rights based in necessity and ignorance of the law.

The increased concern about sustainability has many companies, both large corporations and small craft chocolate makers visiting cocoa plantations, developing innovative projects, creating traceability systems, building schools and community centers where cocoa workers live, getting farms under contract as their own cocoa providers and forming organizations like cooperatives and civil associations that represent workers and small-holding interests which advocate for their market position.

Nonetheless the buyers of beans that depend on pulling together 100 tons or more per year are often ruthless middlemen that put themselves in a position to facilitate the commerce of beans at the lowest possible price to the farmer and the highest price to the broker, sometimes this price in equivalent value is under $1 per kilo. This breaks the possibility of a sustainable supply chain, yet it is true that most beans are sold to these middlemen who buy directly from farmers. Beans that end up with regional buyers are often mixed with other beans from other areas and different farms which results in a mixed single-origin (country) chocolate, like the one produced by Venezuela's government chocolate maker or by Nestle which buys a lot of Venezuelan cacao from a variety of sources. Without more integrity in these areas those who source beans who have not become noted for their provisioning services are at a disadvantage when it comes to providing fine aromatic specific origin beans that meet all the requirements of some buyers.

Additionally much of the world's cocoa crop is irrigated artificially, is grown in monoculture orchards, uses pesticides and depends on chemical fertilizer to boost fruiting, so these are big challenges for the chocolate industry as more than 95% of all cocoa is subject to one or more of these factors; all of these conditions affect the sustainability of the end product.

Let's Be Sustainable

I am glad we do not need to worry about many of these things, ours is 'organic by nature' because it is grown-wild and where it is grown so deep in the forest. It is good to see some bean-to-bar makers taking steps to become more sustainable by visiting cacao farmers and traveling to cacao farms and estates that are more sustainable

We have other advantages in demonstrating sustainability because we are dealing with the most rural farmers (indigenous people) that live in very isolated remote communities; who while they live in poverty, produce their cacao socially on a community level involving several principal farmers (including women). The price we will pay the farmers is transparent using the blockchain because they will bring and deliver their cacao to the factory where 'they' receive the agreed price of $3 plus premiums for quality control and traceability; then they make specialty chocolate with the "wild cacao" they have already harvested, cured and dried already; at least this is our plan.

It is my opinion as the author and business developer that if there is a 'sustainability prize' for the "most sustainably produced cacao" that we should go after that prize. I am sure we can win it!

Getting Started

As a company that is just starting out De'Aruhuä Chocolate wants to do everything right and enjoy building a successful business that can meet the needs of its consumers without exploiting others, giving in to corruption or being unsustainable. We are accomplishing this with our business plan which will work as our universal company operations manual it implicitly incorporates best practices, guidelines and regulations in a plan being developed by other chocolate makers, under industry advocates and international organizations to develop our own unique cooperative enterprise.

We are off to a great start because the Piaroa were and are living sustainably since before they began growing wild cacao or thought about making chocolate. They live deep in the pristine mountain forests of the Three Rivers Protectorate (3RP) an indigenous territorial reserve and protected wilderness area (without roads) in Venezuela comprising 5,000 square kilometers with three navigable clean water rivers the Catañiapo, Cuao and Paraguaza that feed into the Orinoco. I know because I am part-owner of a ecovillage property on the front border of their territory on the Catañiapo River, which is now being dedicated to help us build a bridge between cultures while we help them ensure the continued prosperity and abundance from their lands without the need to engage in extractive industries and illegal deforestation.

Many of them were growing cacao before we came up with this idea to make chocolate with them; in the field however there is lots of room for improvement with agroecological (agroforestry) practices, pruning, post-harvest techniques, standardizing curing procedures and of course in order to sell their chocolate internationally it must be prepared under the guidelines established by the industry. Implementing the blockchain will be the most challenging but it will also bring additional value to the consumer in the long-run, while bringing some new challenges in the marketing of our product at a higher price. Anyway we are glad to be able to work with the Piaroa Partnership Platform (PPP) which is being organized by De'Aruhuä Cacao to assist in their communities working at their agroforestry plantations.

Wild cocoa on trees in the Orinoquia
Aromatic Wild Forastero, Theobroma cacao L. in the Guiana Highlands.

Most Sustainable Chocolate

So what does it take to make the most sustainable chocolate? Should this be our company goal? There are other considerations besides those that are mentioned above; such as how far away the factory might be from the source of the cacao, whether pesticides or chemical fertilizers were used, how much water is being consumed by the cacao trees, how much money is being paid to the farmer, how much is being paid to the middleman and if the cacao was sourced sustainably.

If we were located in North America far from the source of the cacao (cocoa beans) then the environmental footprint of the company would be proportionate and the cost to produce chocolate is dramatically increased based on human labor requirements. Today to properly address all of the factors that consumers are concerned with involves increasing the final list price and the value through delivering a superiorly made product, that is traced to its source, organic, pesticide-free, natural and wild. Moreover the chocolate product we want to produce benefits a social enterprise which is owned by the same people that grow the cacao (cocoa beans).

In addition to the common challenges faced by chocolate makers in selecting the right cacao to use for their chocolate such as how the tree was grown, the soil, the climate, the type of cacao tree (there are 22 subspecies and varieties), the fermentation process, drying process and ageing the beans before using them to make chocolate. All of these things must be known and controlled in order to then perfectly roast their cocoa beans, generally not all of these factors are recorded for each 30-40 kilo bag of beans, but with our data recording app they are.

We feel that if not already, we will have one of the most sustainable chocolates because we are starting with the most sustainable cacao and people that have been living sustainably for many years. We can also make the following claims for our business model:
  1. Cacao produced by indigenous communities is paid for above fair-trade pricing standards. 
  2. No less than 30% of all chocolate revenue goes back to the Piaroa to provide sustainable community development programs in farmers communities involving education, forest management, settlement infrastructure, health care and personal well-being.
  3. Piaroa cacao is free of chemical pesticides and is wholly organic because it is wild-grown in nature without irrigation and it incorporates eco-friendly agroforestry techniques.
  4. Most communities are off-grid, some more than 90 kilometers into the forest by river, no electricity or fossil fuels are used to transport the cacao down river to the port where we pick it up. (the only other way, but less sustainable would be to generate electricity in the forest, move modern chocolate making machinery to Puerto Ayacucho or try to make their chocolate in the forest, which is not very practical at this time, but should be discussed in future plans.)
  5. All electricity used in Caracas by the machinery where the chocolate will be made is derived from a sustainable hydro-electric source. 
  6. Our wrapper will also be eco-friendly being printed on recycled paper and using soy based ink.
  7. Our cacao and chocolate operation will be certified by two or perhaps three international standards certification organizations plus receive endorsements from several divisions of the United Nations.
  8. If there is any doubt our cacao will be tracked using interactive data driven by blockchain technology from the forest-to-bar.
There will probably be many other ways we can demonstrate our ecological social and economic sustainability with the ongoing development of our chocolate factory project before we finish the business plan. Read more about how to become involved here on our blog.

Membership in our foundation, forest-farmed to factory blockchain brand business model is open to people with first hand craft chocolate, bean-to-bar experience, chocolate shops, people in the cocoa industry, home chocolate makers, connoisseurs of fine chocolate, people interested in our raw cacao and social investors looking to support ecologically sustainability initiatives.

Officially the project has not fully opened-up for investors nor are we sure that it will need to be; but we are seeking investors and members from those with confidence in the chocolate industry and those who can potentially find mutual benefit from the cooperative relationship.

As an investment both members and investors will see modest nominal returns or other benefits as members each year once the project has been fully funded and becomes operational. It is projected that members should expect up to a 9% cash dividend the first year and a 30% dividend by the 5th year; investors will earn 15% interest annually based on the execution of the current business plan. Those who are interested can read more on the website for De'Aruhuä Chocolate.
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