Nicolas recently joined the Choba Choba Family and will be in charge of the Choba Choba Farmers’ Association (ACCC). But before you become the Managing Director, you first must learn to be a farmer! And we know the best place to learn this profession! Read Nico’s impressions of his first trip to the Alto Huayabamba:
1. You had a stable and well paid job at an NGO just recently. Why embark on Choba Choba’s crazy adventure?
True! I have been working in the field of development cooperation for the past 10 years and although I cherish all the experiences that I’ve had so far, I could not be fully satisfied with the real impacts I was seeing on the ground. In the past years, I also had a few experiences with responsible entrepreneurship – among others working on coffee in Nepal – and I directly felt it was a dynamic and inspiring field in which to work. I believe that businesses like Choba Choba are powerful to circumvent skewed incentives, often coming from traditional development projects, and establish more genuine and sustainable working relationship – still keeping human and environmental values at the core of the business.
Another aspect that directly caught my attention was the geographical location of the farmers. During my master thesis, I spent seven months in Peru – spending time with rural communities and exploring the corridors of the Peruvian bureaucracy. I had an excellent time there and the perspective of going back was definitely an additional pull-factor. It was like the job was just tailored for me. Now, I’m also happy to go back to Peru and meet some old friends who could also be of help for our endeavours.
Finally, the decisive element was my first encounter with the Choba Choba team. From the start, they gave me a very good impression both in professional and human terms, I think we clicked quite quickly. Then, I’ve found them very serious in their craziness and highly contagious. So, here I am…
2. During your second week at Choba Choba, you packed your bags and traveled to the Alto Huayabamba. What was it like to meet your new bosses – the 36 Choba Choba farming families?
It was fantastic! I was welcome with very warm feelings but also a lot of expectations – which gives me a lot of energy to make sure we keep up with such dynamics. I also took the time to visit almost each farming family on their farm site to get a better idea of their reality and to get to know them better personally. In collective meetings, you always have some people who are more vocal than others, but it doesn’t mean that the others have nothing to say. So we could discuss about their issues, expectations and dreams for the future in a more intimate setting.
3. What have you learned on your first short trip to the Alto Huayabamba?
I guess I would easily exceed the format of this interview if I had to mention all I’ve learnt in these last 15 days but to summarise, I would say an intensive hands-on training on cocao production – which gives me a comprehensive overview of the different steps from planting to shipping but also helps me understand where our main challenges lie in the near future. Otherwise, this trip also helped me a lot to have a better personal and contextual understanding of the area.
4. Can you name two things that struck you most?
What stroke me most is the positive energy and active participation of the farmers. On the second day, we had a 3.5 hours workshop with quite a dense program requiring a lot of contributions. Based on my experience, I was a little skeptical that we could pack all these activities in just an afternoon and keep everyone actively involved. However, I have been impressed by what we were able to achieve in just a few hours. You can feel that the empowerment process has already started although the path is still long for them to have a full grasp on the whole value chain and what it means to be an international entrepreneur. But we’ll keep learning from each other, it is an exciting process!
Oh, you said two? Well, I’ll have to say the loudspeakers of Crisho in Pucalpillo! They can undeniably compete with those of Züri Fäscht… Anyway, thanks to them and the Latin vibe of Alto Huayabamba, I had a great birthday celebration in the ‘Selva’.
5. What challenges lie before you in the months to come?
One of the first priorities identified with the farmers is the establishment of a local structure in Peru – probably a cooperative – which will help them market their cocoa surplus but also help us to apply for technical and financial support directly in Peru. At the same time, we’re starting a hiring process in Peru to strengthen our team with a Peruvian cocoa expert who will support us in our ‘nativo’ project and in the finalisation of our post-harvest centers in Santa Rosa and Pucalpillo. Another important task is to set up an impact monitoring system to make sure we are on the right track and help us communicate with our partners and customers. Finally, we need to start developing the strategy, planning and budgeting process for 2017 so that we can start moving fast but in a well-thought way.
Besides, I should not forget the most important, which is my daily personal capacity-building in the whole range of Choba Choba chocolate creations…
6. One last thing we can’t help but ask: What’s your favorite Choba Choba creation so far?
I never thought I would give this answer as I usually don’t fancy the mix of chocolate and coffee but ‘Juanita con Café’ is just a killer!