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Just over two weeks ago we had a visit with the members of the Go Now Be Free Tour. Jody Treter, the guide, wrote about it here. Jody and I met up through a visit over a year ago to our shop by Mimi Wheeler, of Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate in Michigan. Mimi had come down to visit Ecuador and meet with Miriam, the recipient of GoBe’s first microloan. I also helped Mimi arrange a visit to the plantations belonging to my friend, and connoisseur/grower of some of Ecuador’s finest Nacional cocoa beans.
The group came over to the workshop in the morning, and I gave them a brief but thorough introduction to cacao in Ecuador, discussing most of what you’ve read here on this blog. We got into CCN-51, Nacional, and other arcane topics surrounding Ecuadorian chocolate.
In the afternoon, I took them over to Fundacion y Desarrollo, a major NGO here in Ecuador involved in Fair Trade Certification as well as promoting “Super” cacao. I hadn’t really known they were so involved in this project, but learned a great deal about it.
Two North American acquaintances of mine have been the pioneers in the “super cacao” project. They began by selecting the very best cacao trees they could-by best I mean those that are most disease resistant and with the highest yields. The project started through the observation that in any area where cacao is grown widely, there always seem to be a few trees, out of many, that produce more cacao than usual and also are more disease resistant. These two men began by propagating these high yield trees and planing them. It turns out that they are getting absolutely incredible yields in the very first years.
Conservacion y Desarrollo has been working with farmers throughout the country to not only gather and propagate seedlings from “super cacao” trees, but to then take the trees and study their genotypes closely. Instead of a costly, multi-year project whereby scientists could be sent into the field to search out and study the trees, C&D has recruited thousands of farmers to select their best trees, and then turn them over to be studied and analyzed. The ultimate aim of the project, through identifying and propagating high-yielding cacao trees, is to combat poverty by helping farmers increase their income and produce better cacao, and ultimately, better chocolate.