Chuya Yaku is a Kichwa community in Ecuador located in the heart of the Amazon. Their cacao growing efforts are preventing deforestation in the rainforest.
Even though resources are being exploited and creating a negative impact on surrounding communities, the majority of Kichwa people still would choose to have road access rather than being secluded in the jungle. On our way down to Chuya Yuku, we saw at least ten illegal logging access points, half a dozen trucks carrying oil and brand new Volkswagon bus-full of workers to aid in the extraction of oil.
Having an open dialogue about the communities’ experiences and hardships with cacao production was invaluable. They told me stories of how they continually get taken advantage of by greedy intermediaries, sometimes only getting 30 cents per pound of cacao. The intermediaries are buying cacao to sell to Nestle or other large chocolate corporations and are only concerned with the bottom line. The farmers also face diseases that infect their cacao pods, diseases like Monilia, that infect and rot the cacao pod.
The cultivation of cacao offers a symbiotic solution with the rainforest and its people. It has the potential to bring a more holistic level of prosperity to the community and region without destroying their complex ecosystem.
When I first spoke with the farmers, they wanted to know who was going to buy their cacao at a fair price if they spent the time to nurture their heirloom varietals.
They wanted to know how to prevent their cacao from diseases.
They wanted to know how many kilos of cacao they needed to produce to be able to have control of the price of their cacao.
They wanted to trust that caring for their plants was worth it in order to support their families.
They wanted to know how they could afford building a fermentation and drying center for processing the cacao to sell higher quality product.
Some cultures in what was once Mesoamerica have a special history with cacao, but in these jungle communities cacao is a fruit, like papaya or mango. The Kichwa do not have a history of making cacao into chocolate, so when they heard that I was going to teach them how to make chocolate they were very excited.
The first day we brought gas into the community and got the generator working to run the Chocolate Refiner and we made chocolate together. Everyone stuck their heads in to see the stone wheels grinding the cacao. When the chocolate was smooth enough, we filled a giant cauldron with milk, sugar and chocolate. Everyone sipped happily as we filled and refilled each other’s cup.