A while ago, Carol just packed her bags and traveled to the Choba Choba cacao rebels in Peru. For 8 entire months! Why she decided to go there, what exactly she will be doing in the Alto Huayabamba and which other super interesting project she is working on – she tells you all of this here:
Carole, how come you decided to spend 8 months with cocoa farmers in the Peruvian Amazon?
I am currently doing a postgraduate degree in development cooperation at the ETH Zürich and a central part of this training is to get involved in a project over several months. Our institute offered us a number of attractive opportunities to work for international organizations. However, I made my own proposal to work with Choba Choba in Peru.
… and why Choba Choba?
For several years already, I have been interested in food and its sustainable production and I have been working in this field, too. And being addicted to dark chocolate, I wanted to learn more about cacao and its origins. I am also an ethnologist and therefore very interested in the life of the cacao farmers and the circumstances they live in. Finally, it is friendship that connects me with the Choba Choba team in Switzerland. And this is how I ended up here in the Peruvian lowland and have been living and working in Pucallpillo and Santa Rosa for two months now.
What exactly is your job in the Alto Huayabamba?
I will work on a so-called “baseline”. Our goal is to systematically record the current living conditions of the cocoa farmers asking question such as: What are at the present their sources of income and do they cover the basic needs of the families? How productive are their “chacras” (fields)? What is the level of education and the health care? But we are also interested in the conditions of the surrounding environment, the self-determination of women and what the “cacaoteros” wish for their future? Only by finding answers to these questions at the beginning of a project, we can recognize actual changes after a certain time and compare them with the initial situation.
Apart from my work on the baseline, I also support Jhon, Maria and Jimy, the three local members of the Choba Choba team, in their tasks such as the preservation of the endemic varieties of cacao “Nativo”, capacity building workshops for the farmers and the daily coordination with the company in Switzerland.
… and you also have a very special project …
Yes, there is one more thing: I started to give English classes to the farmers from time to time. They have been wanting to learn it for a very long time. The biggest challenge for me here is that it is the first time they learn a foreign language at all and so the grammatical differences with Spanish sometimes make them frown. But my 12 students are super motivated and we laugh a lot together.
What is the link between you, the Crowd Container and Choba Choba?
Oh, there is actually a lot that connects us! The Crowd Container is a project that my boyfriend Tobias and I launched with a couple of friends. We too work with cooperatives of small scale farmers just in other regions of the world. Like Choba Choba, we want that a big part of the added value of a product remains in the region where it comes from so that the small scale farmers can benefit from it.
… and how exactly does the Crowd Container work?
The consumers here in Switzerland pre-order their organic and socially produced food directly from the farmers in different parts of the world. So for instance they order their cashew nuts and fine spices from Kerala in southern India or freshly pressed olive oil, passata di pomodoro and pasta from Sicily. We, the Crowd Container Team, then take care of the entire coordination and organize the transport of the ordered products. You then receive – just like with the baskets with local products that we have here – a package with around 10 different products directly from the farmers.
So it’s just like at Choba Choba: the consumers and the producers get in direct contact …
Exactly! Our project allows farmer cooperatives to market their broad product range internationally. On top of that, like with Choba Choba, the producers get in direct contact with their consumers. It is possible now also thanks to modern communication technologies. No matter whether it’s in southern India, Sicily or the Peruvian Amazon: Many farmers today have a Facebook account and are very happy to get in touch with their consumers! Instead of certifications, we focus on transparency and direct trade, another aspect we share with Choba Choba. By the way: At the Crowd Container, we are currently working on new partnerships with small scale farmers’ cooperatives from other regions in the world.
Is there anything that you miss while staying in the Alto Huayabamba?
When I was 16 years old, I lived with a family in Costa Rica for one year and went to school there. Although the life here in the Peruvian lowland is different, there are many things that remind me of my time in Central America: the climate, the food, the sense of humor and the heartiness of the people and, of course, the language. These experiences from when I was a teen have helped me to quickly feel comfortable and at home in the Alto Huayabamba, without getting homesick. Of course I miss my boyfriend. And when the sun burns down on our skin in the afternoon, I sometimes also miss the cool alpine breeze from home…