An honest sharing we hope that will inspire and open a new time for all Cacao Communities!
ALL PHOTOS TAKEN BY THE CACAO AMBASSADOR Solomon Islands DEC 2022
Join us on our recent Cacao journey in the Solomons. This is our honest sharing, this is the level we invite of honesty and evolving work of all companies engaged with Cacao, rather then fixed words that can be stagnant and mis - leading like 'ethical'.
Our last visit to Guadalcanal was in March 2020, just before the borders closed! We had connection, village level training and momentum!
Over the last 2.5 years, we endeavoured to keep the connection flowing, but in all honesty, the pictures up until last week on our website were 2.5 years old! They were real and of that time and the most recent, but not of where things were when the borders reopened! But at the same time it was impossible to do anything different. I couldn’t be on the ground, I couldn’t continue that level of work we had been in, the villages were shut off from Honiara and Diana of Cathliro (our on the ground partner), could not travel to the villages either.
And so instead, we supported by ensuring we ordered every three months, created a new market here in NZ to buy the beautifully created Cacao products, ensuring income was flowing back, and that did have an impact.
At that point, without being on the ground it felt good, great and that we were doing enough.
But when I landed back in Honiara on the 28th Nov, 2022, it didn’t feel that way any more!
Why? Because everything needed to shift and upgrade. It wasn’t enough any longer! The disconnect had grown hugely.
I was hit by it like a wall. I had expected it, but nothing could have truly prepared me! How cut off the farmers were, the impact of Covid, the riots the previous years, the burnt buildings, the presence of China. All changes, and more action needed and here we were, we are, in it! Not perfect, but willing to look, feel, see and be in the change of what truly is required!
And what I really mean by all of this, is that ethical, authentic, sustainable are not a fixed status, a fixed thing. What was ethical 2.5 years ago, what was ethical through not being able to travel, is no now no longer ethical. Its not about being hard on ourselves rather, being honest, rawly honest, being in the discomfort and then stepping forward into the change needed and taking action!
Some more background:
Cacao has been in the Solomon’s since the late 50’s. Brought to the Solomon’s for supplying the bulk cocoa market, primarily Europe at the time, and so farmers were taught to grow Cacao, and sell what we call 'wet beans' to anyone who will buy them at a really low price. In this, there is a massive disconnect from their trees and the power and gift of Cacao herself.
There is no chance of cacao farming communities and their families enjoying Cacao if they cannot go to the next stage of fermenting the beans!
And so Cacao continued to grow with a massive disconnect, many farmers changing their crop many times, Cacao trees being left to grow wild, or pulled out because the market would come and go and buyers would come and go., There was no empowerment, connection or knowing of the magic that surrounded them…
Then about 5 years ago, the farmers heard this promise of more money if they grew boutique cacao. Beautiful shade grown cacao, that was well fermented and sun dried only (rather then the tradition of smoke drying), and of premium flavour.
Some farming communities came on board! And this is where Diana of Cathliro comes in! She started centrally fermenting and sun dry quality cacao, paying a higher price to the farmers for the wet beans, but more, provided a consistent income by going out to the villages every week to buy the beans. When Diana and I connected in 2019 for the first time, it was such a meeting of love and passion to make an on the ground true difference. I immediately saw the gap and the disconnect and invited Diana to go even further then paying a consistent price, and consistently buying every week, to giving back the power to the farmers and so we started new programs in village level training. Diana focused on the skill set required for taking care of Cacao tress and I focused on showing the villages how they could do their own small fermenting and sun drying for their own consumption. We have worked together ever since, albeit through messenger over the past 2.5 years.
And so in March 2020, we made the first every Cacao brew, hot chocolate, milo, ceremonial cacao, what ever word, ever made in a village from Local Cacao, in the Solomon's.
And this is where it ended apart from a few farmers who continued, especially Amazing Grace, but the habit was not there in having Cacao daily, and the trust and so when Covid came every one went back to what was familiar, which was to allow their Cacao trees to return to being covered in jungle, and to stop consuming it.
I am being this transparent because I cannot be ethical if I am not.
There is no one right answer, as every country, and every community require something different! So catch all phrases like 'fair trade', cannot work across the board in the diversity that is out there in Cacao growing communities!
Thriving Cacao Communities!
The word that keeps coming to me is THRIVING! For every Cacao farming community that is connected in the supply chain to THRIVE!
Just feel the word! It has endless growth, possibility, wholeness and momentum and empowerment behind it and gives a feeling to what is the endeavour. We want all our Cacao communities that we support to THRIVE, where we visit and smile in all that goodness taking place.
Is this possible?
And we can only start with ourselves and by asking real questions, being in discomfort of the answers, knowing stated words like ethical, fair trade and organic are not enough to ensure true thriving lives for our Cacao growing communities!
So perhaps when a company says ethically sourced one could ask them:
To see images of their farmers – the actual farmers who supply the Cacao
To see inside their farmers homes
To ask if the farmers lives are in or out of poverty
To know what level of education the children have
To know what diet the Cacao farming families have and their source of nutrition
To know what level of fresh water is available
To know what level of challenges are on the ground such as domestic violence and various substance abuse
To know what projects are ongoing, and what is the vision from what is to what could be
To know even in the ceremonial arena if the Cacao communities who supply the Cacao or make the paste, are consuming their own cacao daily
To see images, details, names, the how, the where
To understand of the Cacao farming communities have Cacao sovereignty? Do they have food sovereignty? Do they have access and a connection to their own cacao?
To know if the youth are returning to their farms because they are thriving
To know if the cacao farming communities feel seen, valued, honoured, appreciated
Too often, communication is shared in closed statements, and the sense that a Cacao farming community is a happy ever after story, a done deal. But are they thriving? Only then is it a done deal, because the communities are in their own power and their own momentum for the future.
And to be honest this is consumer lead, because it can be uncomfortable to know the real ground of where our food comes from!
But by knowing this – being in the discomfort of this we can be in the change! Thats where the power comes in and the amazing possibility!
Back to the Solomons
And so here is our honesty within the Cacao Ambassador - are the farming communities that supply our beans thriving right now?
But are we in the change?
It was a sacred moment, when I met our farmers on this trip and a number of them said:
'You came back, you remembered us' and I shared how they had never left us, how we shared their photos, told their stories and kept buying their Cacao, and now we are able to be back, we will be here to walk side by side by them into a new time together.
But the reality currently in the Solomon's, is that there are a minimum 300-400 tonne of beautiful boutique Cacao beans grown and cared for with no market. A number of farmers did the work, and moved from the bulk market into the boutique market, but there were no buyers. In Australia and NZ there is only a small craft market for buying beans direct, alongside competing with beans from all around the world. The craft chocolate market is not enough volume to make an impact for these Solomon farmers. But where this a large market and what we in the Cacao Ambassador are big advocates for is value adding! What do I mean by this?
Instead of trying to find niche markets for beans, we transform the beautiful sun dried beans into further products such as Cacao nibs, Cacao husk tea, 100% Cacao Paste, Cacao Powder & Cacao butter, right where they are grown. There is a wonderful niche market for this in NZ and Australia, with no Cacao available on this level from the Pacific. We are in this now, to ensure there is and will be more and more value added Pacific Cacao products available.
And so on this visit, and with the help of Strongin Bisnis, an Australian Aid organisation, we activated a number of projects that will ensure cacao farming communities will receive a higher price for their boutique beans, by producing centrally in Honiara, local value added Cacao products such as Cacao butter and powder, and we will compete with import’s such as Milo (over 100 tonne of cacao products is imported into the Solomon’s, with zero consumption of local cacao). And secondly that Cacao communities know that their cacao is first for them, their families and village and then for sale!
Right now if a farmer would like to bake a chocolate cake they will pay $75 local dollars for a kilo of imported cacao powder and they will get currently a maximum of $12 local dollars for a kilo of their own beautiful cacao beans. And they will pay $3 local dollars for 30gs of milo where the first ingredient is sugar!
And so alongside Strongim Bisnis (Australian Aid), we are working with two companies, KPSI and Cathliro to transform the beautiful beans into value added products, at a 60% price increase to the farmers. Alongside the price increase, there will be transport, further village level training and developing micro production stations remotely, so every Thriving Cacao community to come, can make their own local cacao powder, butter, and milo, on a mini commercial level, whilst also learning how to do it n the home without any power or equipment.
When I use the word Thriving, I see feel and know a time, when our work of walking alongside is done, because they have their own momentum, and empowerment! We will simply serve them in bringing their beautiful Cacao further and further into the world!
We hope that we will be in full production of Cacao butter and powder by the end of March and this beautiful woman Agnes will lead the way in being the first to run a micro production station;
A big shout to Ezra from Islands own, who hugely support by allowing us to trial Cacao butter pressing in his coconut oil factory, and who gifted so much time to ensure the projects will be successful!
We also spoke with different organisations on the possibility of having the educational at school level and accessibility to sharing the health benefits. We activated a local chocolate festival for next year where so many will be educated, and so much more. And since leaving, there has been real momentum behind this by a few dynamic Beings on the ground, and this has the beginning sense of Thriving. The fire has been beautiful lit and has its own moment without us needing to be there!
Alongside the project initiation, together with Strongim Bisnis, we presented to over 30 change makers on the ground in Honiara of what is possible for local consumption, sharing the history and how Cacao was farmed in villages in the Amazon for thousands of years and so village level consumption must be possible. This was mind blowing for all of them, as everyone knows a cacao farmer or community as Cacao grows all over the Solomon’s, but have never consumed it or, or know any Solomon Islander who has consumed their own!
And after two intense weeks of meeting, trials, laughter, challenges, discussions, the projects were underway and Diana and I headed out to Amazing Graces farm, where we reconnected with the farmers from the 6 villages we support together. These are our farmers who supply the beans, that is turned into our beautiful Cacao products by Cathliro's team.