Cocao & The Power of Knowledge
we want to give other people who like to start with cocoa an easy access to more knowledge about cocoa; to help them to avoid making the costly mistakes that we made in the beginning, simply because we lacked the most important asset of all: knowledge.
How it began
We had been driving uphill for half an hour along a difficult muddy path not far from Buon Ma Thuot in the Dak Lak province of Vietnam. Along the way, we passed a car with a small loader. The loader was, in fact, a half round cage in which a huge boar was standing. “When I have to come back as an animal in my next life, I want to come back as him”, Lam said. Lam was my Vietnamese consultant, a very helpful and friendly guy, and an absolute genius when it comes to cocoa. I had to think for a moment but then I realized I heard about these kinds of pigs before: “ah, this is a fuck pig?” Lam smiled and nodded: “lucky bastard.” Despite the image of being in a cage, the life of this boar was actually quite relaxed and came down to one of the most popular pastimes of men and animals. He was allowed to breed as many piggies as he could, meanwhile driven around from farm to farm. Seemingly a life much easier than that of his owner who was struggling to make ends meet as a pig farmer.
harvesting sustainable coffee in Dak Lak, Vietnam
Dak Lak, the cocoa highlands
Finally, we stopped at a nice, three storey high house with a red tile roof. A small family car was parked in front of it. Lam parked the car and was greeted by Tuan, a smiling man in his late fifties. I got out and saw that the ground floor of the new house was turned into a modern barn with wooden boxes to ferment cocoa beans in one corner, and a big pile of fresh cocoa pods in another.
The wife of Tuan waited for us in the barn and asked us to follow her to the back of the house. There was the source of their income and the reason why they could afford to build this house and the purchase of a new family car: three hectares of farmland; one-and-a-half hectare was reserved for coffee and one-and-a-half for cocoa. Four years ago they had given up half of their small coffee farm in favor of cocoa, and it had paid off for them.
Our Cambodian workers learning grafting techniques in Vietnam
I was shocked: here I was in Vietnam, not even 150 kilometers from the province of Mondulkiri in Cambodia. The soil conditions were the same, the weather was the same, even the same hilly conditions. On top of this, the average farmer in Cambodia has at least twice the amount of land as his Vietnamese counter partner. Yet, while a Vietnamese farmer like Tuan can afford a new car and a decent brick house, the average farmer in Mondulkiri is living in a wooden accommodation without electricity and running water, let alone having a new family car in front of his property. There is only one simple explanation for this shocking difference: knowledge. Cambodian farmers rarely know anything else than the basics of rice or cassava. Rice is not possible in the highlands of Mondulkiri, so a farmer limits himself to cassava which hardly brings in any money.
It all bottles down to theoretical and practical information. We, farmers at Kamkav Farm, can have a say about this as well. Despite the support of Lam, we started out with a limited knowledge about cocoa. As a result, we made very costly mistakes. Mistakes other farmers don’t have to make. If ever we have the ways to communicate with them. The more knowledge we gather, the more we feel the urge to share this knowledge. On the other hand, we also know that other cocoa farmers might have more or better knowledge on subjects that are still puzzling us (like specific kind of diseases).
In the beginning of our journey as cocoa farmers in Mondulkiri, Cambodia
We wish you good rains and a good harvest.