Sao Tome, where my chocolate story begins…
Sao Tome and Principe is a tiny African island nation that lies close to the equator, characterised by beautiful beaches, lush rainforests, coral reefs and volcanic rock formations. Once known as ‘chocolate island' it is the volcanic soil and ideal equatorial climate that provides the great aromatic richness of the chocolate.
Formerly a thriving nation, Sao Tome was one of the world’s largest producers of cocoa in the early 20th century. However, in 1975 they became an independent nation and the plantations were more or less abandoned. When the price of cocoa crashed in the late 1990s and the crops were in severe decline many of the small farmers were living on the edge of poverty. An initiative supported by the Us International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Cafedirect (a British Fairtrade firm), helped the co-operatives produce Fairtrade certified beans.
Kaoka was commissioned by IFAD to assess the country’s cocoa sector in 2001, and over several years they helped the farmers form cooperatives and work together in small community associations. By coming together in cooperatives and processing their cocoa, they managed to get a much better return on their crops.
Kaoka invested in supporting the farmers through the organic certification process and they now 'benefit from five times the price they had when they sold it as a gloopy white liquid.' In 2004 Sao Tome was producing just 50 tonnes of cocoa but this rose to 600 tonnes of organic fair trade beans by mid-2010.
Cecab stands for the Cooperative of Organic Cocoa Export, it represents 2051 families (15% of the rural population). Kaoka guarantee 'a price about 40% superior to the best prices in the conventional market, as well as a minimum price when the market is unfavourable.' This means farmers can sell their entire cocoa production at a price that brings value to their work.
Many producers have invested in home improvements and now can afford items like bicycles, generators, radios and refrigerators.
Kaoka has been recognised, as specialist in exceptionally high quality aromatic organic chocolate for over 20 years and this is important to me. But of equal importance is their values that encompass 'long-term commitments; a close partnership with cocoa growers and a strategy of sustainable development.'
'It is this logic that ultimately allows the producer to make a living from his work. We must roll up our sleeves and get involved in a partnership with producers toward the preservation of rural economic activities so that everyone might live in the environment he has chosen. Fairtrade, this is it. The rest is all rubbish.' — André Deberdt, founder of KAOKA