We have created a first attempt to bring cocoa farmers with the same mindset and the same passion together; to unite them where ever they are in the world, whether it is Hawaii, Madagascar or Ecuador. At the same time 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.
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.
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.
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).
A forum to connect cocoa farmers
It probably is the language barrier but cocoa farmers across the world are still not really well integrated with each other. Cocoa farming is of course not limited to one region and therefore to one language. It spreads from Hawaii in the Pacific across South-East, South Asia, and Africa, till Ecuador and Peru in South-America.
But we really get excited about the idea of connecting all those different farmers with each other. How wonderful it must be to discuss fermenting techniques or a specific pruning technique with farmers in Papua New-Guinea, Thailand, India, Madagascar, Cameroon, Belize and Nicaragua at the same time. The possibilities are there. Thanks to the World Wide Web we now can connect and learn from each other.
That’s the reason why we set up a simple cocoa farming forum on our website. In the hope, we can make this connection. Most of the farmers worldwide nowadays have access to the internet, through a smartphone. Maybe this forum is too basic for this purpose – for now, we only have set it up in English – but we have to start somewhere. Just see it as a first attempt to bring people with the same mindset and the same passion together, and to give other people who want to start with cocoa an easy access to more knowledge; to help them to avoid making the costly mistakes that we made in the beginning. If you were willing to read this article until here, I urge you to spread the word and help us – cocoa farmers – unite. We don’t have the luxury of being driven around and spend our time like the lucky boar we met on the way. We have bigger responsibilities.
We wish you good rains and a good harvest.
Here is the link to our cocoa forum