Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Reviving Cocoa Traditions in Panama

In March, Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer Rebecca Roebber traveled to Panama to support La Asociacion de Profesionales y Tecnicos Ngäbe -Buglé de Bocas de Toro (APROTENG) by providing a two-week training to a group of women in marketing and the production of cocoa by-products.  The local women are participants of Partners of the Americas' EducaFuturo program which focuses on reducing child labor in the region. In a joint effort to improve the livelihoods of families and reduce child labor, EducaFuturo and Farmer-to-Farmer are working together to build the local capacity of community members in Changuinola, Panama.

Below Rebecca gives us a glimpse of the local context and describes her experience:

By Rebecca Roebber

A peak at the inside of the cacao bean.
Cacao is grown locally in the province of Bocas del Toro, Panama and has historically been sold to first world countries who produce and chocolate.  This has made it very difficult for cacao farmers to make a living. Through the Farmer-to-Farmer program, I had the opportunity to work with a group of indigenous Ngäbe ("no-bay") women to create added value, finished chocolate products as an additional way of generating income to support their families.

One of the participant's roasting cacao.
Traditionally, the Ngäbe people made and drank chocolate for its medicinal properties and because it gave them strength. Many of the local women have memories of their grandmothers roasting the cacao over a fire to make chocolate, but most had never learned how to make chocolate themselves. 

Grinding the cacao.
After learning the basic steps for making chocolate, the women worked together as inventors to create unique recipes. Their chocolate included ingredients like; salt, cinnamon, fried plantain, vanilla and coconut. They designed a label with a cacao tree with their story and ingredients on the back. They also decided to organize themselves into a group called Mery Nöba, which means women chocolatiers in the local dialect. As part of the process of forming a group, they voted on a directive board. 

Preparing to put the chocolate into the molds.
At the beginning of my assignment I was unsure of whether or not the women would elect to work collectively or take the knowledge they had learned from the workshops and work individually. The women were skeptical of working with one another at first but ended up finding a real sense of community over the course of the training. That was the most empowering part of the project. They were so excited by what they were learning that they would continue working into the evenings after the workshops ended each day. Not only are they united and proud of the products they produced, but they are also carrying on the traditional practice of making chocolate. 

Coloring the product labels.
There are still opportunities to continue supporting this group in refining their products and seeking out locations where they can sell their products. The progress they made in two weeks, however, was very impressive. By the end of the training, people in the neighborhood were curiously poking their heads in and were ready to purchase some of the groups handmade artisanal chocolate. 

Example of the final packaging and label.
Dressed in their beautiful Ngäbe dresses these women invite you to try their chocolate!

Products on display for purchase.

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