Congolese cocoa farmers add flavour to prime Belgian chocolate

Congolese cocoa farmers add flavour to prime Belgian chocolate

in News
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Mambasa is one of the largest regions of DR Congo, which, with the Ituri rainforest, has an enormously rich biodiversity. But poaching and massive deforestation for agriculture threaten the region. The young farmers of Cacao Okapi opt for a radically different approach. And now you can taste that approach in a Belgian-Congolese gourmet chocolate from Veliche: Okapi 65.

"An intensely spicy dark chocolate, with flavours of spices and dried fruit", is how the chocolate is recommended on the Veliche website. Several chefs are already fans. "This tasty and versatile chocolate gives a warm feeling, especially in combination with spices such as cinnamon, cloves and pepper. Combinations with red fruit such as raspberry and blackcurrants revive the acidity nicely"

Peter Remmelzwaal Dutch patissier who uses the chocolate in his products

Power tour

Behind this bar lies a real Congolese power tour.

Cocoa cultivation has only existed in the region for about fifteen years and has increased year after year. "The farmers processed their cocoa beans individually," says Charles Kambale Kivalotwa, director of Cacao Okapi. "As a result, cocoa beans of very varied quality came onto the market. The price you get for them varies accordingly." Besides, cultivation is currently mainly in the hands of older farmers. "If young people are not involved in agriculture, the sector is not sustainable."

Attracting young people into agriculture is done by providing perspective. And that perspective is offered by the young cooperative Cacao Okapi, named after the endangered zebra giraffe with which the cocoa growers share the protected rainforest.

Inspiration from the coffee growers

Lydie Kasonia from Rikolto in DR Congo still remembers the first meeting with Charles. “He had heard about the results we are getting with the 7,500 coffee growers in the region putting quality Congolese coffee on the world map,” says Lydie. “Whether we could repeat that power tour for cocoa was the question. After a thorough study, our answer was yes.”

Experience with coffee has shown that farmers' incomes increase significantly if the quality is first improved before you start selling larger volumes. "Just like with coffee in the past, the cocoa is sold at ridiculously low prices due to a lack of structure and organisation."

This structure was created on 1 October 2019. That was the day of the official foundation of Cacao Okapi, a cooperative of 400 cocoa farmers.

The main thing that convinced Rikolto's team to go for it together was the boldness of Charles and the group of young farmers around him. “Everything starts on the field,” Charles explains. “To deliver quality, it is important, for example, that you prune the cocoa trees regularly, that you can keep various diseases under control and that you sort the beans carefully. With our training, we increase production and at the same time reduce the pressure on the rainforest.”

Passed with honours

“If young people are not involved in agriculture, it is not sustainable”
Charles Kambale Kivalotwa Director of Cocoa Okapi

But what happens after the harvest also determines the quality. “The initial processing of the beans is best done as close as possible to the farmers' plantations,” says Ndegho Mukomerwa of Rikolto. “That is why we organise farmers around cocoa fermentation and drying centres in which we let the farmers themselves invest as shareholders. Four such centres are already in place, but there is potential for at least 22."

The extensive focus on quality is bearing fruit. Okapi's cocoa achieved a quality score of 88% in taste tests; enough to get the label "quality cocoa". And that score attracts the attention of chocolate companies scouring the market for top quality.

Thanks to the support of Alimento and Foundation Vivace!