Name: Rebecca Roebber
Current title/profession: Marketing Director and COO of indi chocolate, LLC
Current hometown: Seattle, Washington
Areas of expertise: Marketing, sales, international relations
Name of project: Farmer-to-Farmer Caribbean Region
Location of the project: Ecuador
Organization that sent the volunteer: Partners of the Americas
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. In Kichwa, Chuya Yaku means clear water. Kichwa is the indigenous language spoken by just over 180 people that live in the community and is a common dialect of the region.
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.
They have stories of government funded agencies coming in and giving them a high yield cacao, called CCN-51, which is less susceptible to diseases, but lacks any flavor. Many farmers have left the more flavorful and native varietals to rot on the trees favoring the higher yielding varietals.
It is clear that in order to prevent deforestation, contamination of the environment and the livelihood of its people, there needs to be opportunities for the Kichwa people to have a sustainable income as they become more and more exposed to a globalized world. When it comes to combating multinational oil and timber industries, they can use all the support and expertise they can get, as long as their best interests are being met.
Chuya Yaku has dedicated a large portion of their territory to preserving their natural resources, many thanks to the Arajuno Road Project who worked with the Chuya Yaku on a community zoning and mapping project. If they can successfully make a living selling cacao instead of hardwood they can show other neighboring communities that there are better long-term solutions for their community than the complete destruction of the environment they live in.
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.
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.