Travel book in São Tomé, in the heart of the organic fair-trade cocoa plantations

By denan,

  Filed under: Blog
  Comments: None

The Temptation of Travel

All started from Biofach 2016. When Guy Deberdt,Kaoka’s CEO, invited me to join him on his next mission to follow up the Kaoka’s organic fair-trade cocoa plantations in São Tomé (Equatorial Africa, Gulf of Guinea). I hesitate a bit. Indeed, an entire week, disconnected, on this micro lost island, seems to me an eternity. Can I afford this luxury? Finally, I am tempted because I am very involved in my mission of export development for Kaoka. For many years I have promoted these fair trade organic chocolates in Europe, Canada and the USA. Moreover, I am thirsty to know the source of the delicious cocoa. In a way I owe this to the men and women who are at the origin of my personal commitment to Kaoka.

The paradoxical santoméen, the “Léve Léve”

From the airport terminal – in fact a cramped and old-fashioned shed – where we disembark at nightfall I feel a delicious sensation invading me. Obvioulsy I have already met different Afro communities in Martinique, Brazil, Reunion. But I never felt this strange and paradoxical breath, grave and joyous at the same time. It is that of a fatalistic people but animated by an unshakeable faith in its destiny. We are dealing here with the santomean paradoxical.

An art of living and seeing beyond the actual moment, which never brag or waste the present. Serious but never sad. Very quickly I am told that a local expression characterizes it; “Léve Léve” which means simply “quiet quietly, gently”. The tempo of santomean is a slow slowness, in the sense of taking the time, one feels it in contact with each SANTOMEAN.

Cocoa plantation communities

Our stay is essentially devoted to visiting some of the 37 Communities that bring together the family plantations that provide the cocoa needed for our organic -Fair Trade Chocolates. These are plots of an average one hectare which produce the precious beans of the  santomean cocoa. We will also visit the Kaoka’s community infrastructures, which are constantly improving. From the day after our arrival, on a Saturday, we carry on with the plantations  visits from 9 am in the morning to dusk. At the end of long and fast pick-up trips on rough roads, we take rough and wet tracks up to the producers’ communities. These then lead us on to their cocoa plots.

The virtuous circle of the Co-Development of the Organic Fair-Trade Chocolates

This is where we meet the teams of farmers supervised by santomean social-technicians. They were trained by Kaoka in Ecuador on the cutting-edge techniques of plant breeding, grafting, cloning and organic tree management. Consider that in fifteen years some of the most motivated producers have seen their production per hectare go from 200 kg to 1200 kg, and their income increased accordingly with guaranteed prices. Abandoned plots have been restored providing incomes to whole families who have regained dignity. The most valiant converts the others, under the impulse of its flamboyant director Antonio Dias, the Kaoka Cooperative, CECAB, is enriched every day with new contributors.

The mad challenge of André Deberdt: resurrecting Chocolate Island

Because Sao Tome & Principe comes back from afar. Since the departure of the Portuguese in 1975 the archipelago has sank into misery until becoming one of the poorest countries in the world. A crowning achievement for this very young republics which was once the world’s largest cocoa producer known as the Chocolate Island. In 2001, André Deberdt, the creator of KAOKA who disappeared in 2012 as a malaria victim, launched a superhuman challenge: to restructure this abandoned sector and to revive the production of a high-quality cocoa, in addition to Bio. It starts from scratch.

A bet masterly won

In the end, fifteen years later, 37 producer associations representing 2051 families operating 4,400 hectares were grouped together in a Chocolate cooperative. This cooperative has become the first exporting structure of the country, all products combined, not only food! This Organic / Trade-Fair program is even cited as an example by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the IFAD a UN agency that supported it.

Discover Saint-Thomas-and-Prince-Island

Sunday is devoted to the visit of the island. Already I find myself letting be carried. First of all, thanks to Sébastien’s – our Quality & Supply Chain Manager – island  intimate knowledge, who lived there for several years, and then by the “Léve Léve” santoméen. But also and above all, over kilometers by the unspoiled beauty of the landscapes crossed. All in splendor the island is gradually revealed.

Sao-Tomé, original paradise?

And what an island! Alternately; Jagged in wild creeks beaten by the fierce Atlantic, fleece-lined with vegetable luxuriance, wadded with mossed taffetas by vapors and clouds, or hemmed with inviolate beaches, on which only the languid palm trees are watched. Drunkenness of the divine aromas when we cross a forest of Ylang Ylang. Powerful effluents diffused by the equatorial moisture. Power of the elements finally, when suddenly falls on our caravan a deluge released by a polished steel zenith zebras  … Which rushes us into a cabin where on a wood fire  a delicious “goldfish” caught the day and an icy Rosema, the local beer are expecting us!

J-M Denan