Lindt & Sprüngli runs its Farming Program to ensure the availability of such fine flavor cocoa, improve the living conditions of the people growing it and foster an intact environment. Even though the Program is the biggest in Ghana, where the majority of the cocoa comes from, in 2014 the Program was extended to Ecuador, the most important fine flavor cocoa origin for Lindt & Sprüngli.
So when my friends and I decided to travel to Ecuador in 2018, I clearly wanted to take the chance to visit the cocoa farm from which Lindt & Sprüngli sources its cocoa beans. I wanted to learn more about the cultivation of cocoa and see whether the living conditions of those producing it can really be improved through the Program.
Starting the day with coffee and Lindt chocolate
When I contacted the Lindt & Sprüngli sustainability department to ask if a visit was possible, they immediately supported my idea and arranged contact with one of the local Farming Program implementation partners in Ecuador.
In December 2018, we started our trip to Ecuador. After travelling through the country for two weeks, it was time to visit the Program. It is based near Ventanas, a smaller city in the region Los Ríos on the west coast of Ecuador. We took a bus from Guayaquil to reach the local company that runs the Farming Program. The company buys and gathers cocoa from different farming communities in the area and exports it mainly to Europe. Jenniffer, the company employee responsible for the Farming Program, gave us a very friendly welcome.
When starting the visit with coffee and some amazing melted Lindt chocolate with crackers in Jenniffer’s office, the first thing that struck me were the many cardboard boxes imprinted with the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program Logo taking up much of the office space. Jenniffer explained that these were the Christmas presents for all the farmer families and that they contained different groceries and children toys for Christmas. A good start so far.
30 minute drive to the village
Two Jeeps brought us to one of the cocoa-producing communities. We were accompanied by Jenniffer and two members of the field staff that her company employs to implement the Program and assist the cocoa-producing communities with any technical issues. It was an almost 30 minute drive over bumpy dirt roads to get to the village.
On our arrival we were welcomed by all the inhabitants of the community: everybody had gathered around the main square and many were wearing the blue Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program polo shirts. We were overwhelmed by the warm welcome and the festivities the community had organized. After being greeted by the mayor and receiving many hugs and handshakes, we were invited for lunch. Before lunch, the mayor held a speech to thank Lindt & Sprüngli for the support they have been receiving, especially the field staff that regularly come to the village for training sessions and are a great help to them. They even gave a present as a thank you for the support.
Cultivating cocoa is no easy job!
After lunch we walked to the cocoa fields where we were taught a lot about the cultivation of cocoa and the process of harvesting and drying it for export. We even harvested some cocoa pods on our own, opened them and tasted the deliciously sweet cocoa pulp surrounding the beans. We were given an explanation about the characteristics of different types of cocoa and how they can be distinguished by their taste and look.
Cultivating cocoa is no easy job. Especially during harvest time, the farmers have to check the trees on an almost daily basis in order to not miss the right time to harvest every single cocoa pod. This is essential as the beans can only develop their great aroma when harvested at the right time. Seeing the large cocoa fields I could imagine how much work this must entail. Moreover, cocoa trees are delicate plants. They need the right climatic conditions, soil, and plants for providing shade. The Farming Program aims to teach the farmers how to increase their income from their land through improved farming practices. By using, e.g. banana trees to provide shade, the farmers can increase their income with additional crops.
Another important aim of the Farming Program is to encourage farmers to cultivate fine flavor cocoa varieties by providing them with seedlings which are higher yielding and more disease-resistant than the traditional fine flavor varieties. With this, Lindt & Sprüngli is aiming to make fine flavor cocoa cultivation attractive again for the smallholder farmers in Ecuador.
After having learnt and seen so much, the farmers took us on a walk to a waterfall at the end of the plantation where the jungle starts and invited us to take a swim. It was the perfect place to end this exciting day.
It is clear the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program supports the farmers, their families and communities on the ground. Not only are the living conditions better, the increased productivity of the distributed fine flavor cocoa trees with high quality cocoa beans ensures farmers have a better income.