More Income, Less Risk - Direct Trade with Cocoa Farming Communities

Four years ago, when I started on this rather unusual cocoa adventure (complete with boa constrictors, deadly spiders, centipedes and other unsavory creatures), I had no idea what I was getting into. A wise chocolate industry veteran said to me, “You’re going to have to create a completely new supply chain.” I took-in the words, but admittedly I didn’t really know what that would entail.

I didn’t set out to create a new supply chain. I set out to find meaningful ways to partner with cocoa farming communities to improve livelihoods. And, held myself to the additional standard of creating snacks that would offer better choices for the world’s ever-expanding waistlines (a topic for another time).

As I spend time in growing communities, I see the deeper effects of lack of income. When income isn’t available in rural cocoa farming communities – [generally] men go to cities to find work. When men go to cities, fathers are absent, family structures often fall apart under the pressure of separation, and rural women & children are left with devastatingly few income producing options. People with few options aren’t typically looking for growth opportunities – they’re trying to survive and preserve what little they have remaining. A significantly discounted sure payment is far better than the risk of getting a higher payment or nothing at all. And, until now, I have been all too happy to benefit from that deal.

And so, as I spend time with our partner communities, staying in their homes, sharing meals and getting to know their families – I’m challenged. Challenged to not just take their first offer – but to advocate and fight for their livelihoods, families, and future generations. Challenged to find innovative ways to dramatically increase income – without increasing their risk. All the while keeping in mind that electricity, running water, transportation and cell phone / internet service are NOT a given.

Our idea is a small start – but a start nonetheless. In conjunction with our cacao growing communities, Good King has created a completely new snack that celebrates cacao’s origins and natural form – a crunchy & savory, lightly caramelized whole, peeled bean. Our communities process their own cacao and earn 50-100% more income by doing so. Now, they’re growers AND food processors. Now, they’re exporting food, not an agricultural commodity. Now, they’re creating more jobs (mostly for women) within their communities. Now, they can taste the actual fruit of their labors near home.

Of course, there’s infinitely more to be done. And no one company or industry can do it all. What are your ideas? What are your favorite food brands doing? And, what do you wish they were doing?