The very beginning of where your chocolate comes from! Chef Ben tries the inside of a freshly cut cocoa pod for the first time while in West Africa with Project Hope and Fairness. What he is actually eating is the sweet pulp that surrounds the cocoa bean. It's a favorite snack among the African children. The bean itself will eventually become your chocolate!
Ben and Chef Tom are making their way from Abidjan to Depa (near Issia, Cote d'Ivoire) where most of the work of Project Hope and Fairness has been taking place. Along the way they passed through Yamoussoukro, location of the Presidential Palace and the Basilica Notre Dame de la Paix. They encountered this lively group of children during a stop for supplies. They were quite enamored with their American visitors!
The majority of their trip will be spent in and near Depa, meeting with authorities regarding direct export of crops grown in this area to the U.S. and the E.U. Project Hope & Fairness has constructed the Depa Chocolate Factory (along with a rice hulling facility), which produces disks and bars. If cocoa farmers make their own chocolate and sell it locally, they stand to make more than 50% of the retail price, whereas selling cocoa to middlemen, including Fair Trade cooperatives, only earns them 14% of the retail price (assuming a 70% chocolate bar). The long-term goal is to construct chocolate factories in 7 Villages, enabling farmers to sell their bars directly to the consumer through retail stores.
A few of the new friends Ben met along the way today weren't quite as friendly as the children! The journey continues tomorrow...
Project Hope & Fairness, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting cocoa farmers in utilizing the cocoa they grow in their own backyard on the world market, was founded by Chef Tom Neuhaus, former owner of Mama Ganache Artisan Chocolates in San Luis Obispo. The Taylor Family of Stafford's Chocolates acquired Mama Ganache in May of 2018, and are proud to support the goals of Project Hope & Fairness. Read on for additional information from Chef Tom regarding Project Hope & Fairness and visit their website at https://www.projecthopeandfairness.org/ to learn more or make a donation.
Mr. Ouedrago Abdoulaye is piling his beans in the middle so he can fill the jute bags before driving them to nearby Issia, where there are lots of buyers. He is using a cheap plastic bucket. Normally, this would demonstrate the dearth of quality tools, but in this case, he probably doesn't bother because it's hard to carry a shovel on a motorcycle when you're busy negotiating the potholes and other obstacles you encounter on your way to your farm. There are, after all, very few paved roads.
AN EXCITING NEW WAY TO EMPOWER THE COCOA FARMER
By Tom Neuhaus, PhD
The world chocolate industry struggles with a very embarrassing situation: over 70% of the cacao beans used come from 2.5 million small farmers in West Africa—40% from Ivory Coast, 21% from Ghana, 5% from Cameroon, and 5% from Nigeria. The average farmer makes less than $200 per year, which puts him or her in the bottom quintile of the world’s wage earners. As a result, the people who grow most of our cocoa cannot even send their children to school or purchase the medication that keeps their children from dying of malaria.
Mama Ganache Artisan Chocolates, Inc. was founded by Tom and Eve Neuhaus in 2004. From the very beginning it focused on ways to do no harm—to use chocolate that benefitted the cocoa farmer. This included organic and Fair Trade certifications and then eventually the production of bean-to-bar chocolate, which rewards the cocoa farmer for quality. In 2006, Tom established Project Hope and Fairness, a 501 (c)3 non-profit designed to find ways to improve the livelihoods of African cocoa farmers. In the ensuing 12 years, Tom has built 1 chocolate factory and 1 rice-hulling factory in Depa, Ivory Coast, and is currently working on two more factories in neighboring Pezoan.
The Neuhaus family sold its chocolate business to the Taylor family of Porterville, California in May, 2018. Since then, Ben Taylor has taken over where Tom and Eve left off. This includes a commitment to the cocoa farmer. In early September, 2018, Ben is flying to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, to join Tom on a week-long trip to 5 cocoa-growing villages. Tom will show Ben the realities of cocoa village life, how cocoa is grown and processed, and how Depa’s chocolate plant makes bittersweet chocolate from locally grown beans. Ultimately, Tom and Ben plan to establish a brand, Seven Villages Chocolate, for export to the U.S. and to Europe. The goal is to have at least seven villages manufacturing chocolate and cocoa mixes. This kind of commercial development stands to make cocoa growing a sustainable occupation rather than a recipe for impoverishment.