Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker in Guatemala
Local Values / Global Perspectives:
For the past 32 years, Lake Champlain Chocolates has cultivated partnerships with many local agriculture producers in Vermont that supply the company with fantastic heavy cream, butter, maple syrup, apples, and honey. In May 2012, I traveled to Guatemala to meet cacao farmers from three villages in the department of Alta Verapaz. I was interested to see if there was opportunity to develop direct relationships with small farmers at a global reach. The creation of Blue Bandana Chocolate Maker was already underway and the adventure was just beginning to source a new cacao.
Eco-Region Lachua, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala:
The growers in the region are indigenous Q’eqchi’ Maya, descendants of some of the world’s oldest cacao culture. Still to this day, drinking cups of ground cacao beans mixed with chile peppers and corn meal is the norm. The farmer associations Rocja Pomtila (ASORIRP), Patate (ASOSELNOR), and Saholom (KAJBALPOM), are located outside of Laguna Lachua National Park – a lush untouched jungle, abundant with wildlife and a beautiful karstic lake. These associations all work with an NGO, Fundalachua, that helps the communities to conserve and find sustainable ways to reforest the land, and bring income to the people living around the prized park.
Building a Sustainable Supply Chain:
It had been the norm for farmers in the region to sell their cacao for quick cash at low prices to coyotes that would occasionally pass through the region. There was no consistency or guarantee that a buyer would arrive or pay the same as the prior purchase. Some of the cacao would be consumed locally in the villages, but most of the cacao would move to domestic chocolate processors or even across the border to Mexico, where daily domestic consumption is high and the supply of cacao has slipped drastically in recent years.
Our interest in Guatemala began with the intent to source great aromatic and flavorful cacao. But getting involved on the ground has sparked greater supply chain development – where farmers have more stable demand at a higher price for the quality they are providing. This is enabled by our combined involvement with two other key stakeholders to form Cacao Verapaz in 2014. Cacao Verapaz works with small farmer associations and single large estates to provide technical assistance in addition to purchasing premium cacao and connecting their product to premium chocolate makers.
In June of 2013, a small container arrived in Burlington, Vermont with 6MT of cacao. And in 2014, a handful of small chocolate makers in the US combined to purchase 9.8MT of Lachua cacao and also some from ADIOESMAC, another association in nearby Cahabon. The price paid by the chocolate makers for the cacao has increased each year as post-harvest practices have aligned and become more consistent. Farmers are receiving more dollars from these direct trade practices. The prices paid have been well above the typical fair trade premium ($200/MT), and are approaching double the commodity market price. Social and economic impacts are already being noticed in each village as nurseries for future cacao planting are in their second year of operation. In the past months, agreements have been made between Cacao Verapaz and each association to extend the partnership in 2015 to purchase and sell their cacao to premium chocolate makers in the US. I am especially excited that our new cacao sourcing efforts for our Blue Bandana bean to bar products are able to help facilitate this market opportunity for these fantastic cacao producers.