Traditional Post Harvest Processing of Cacao is Difficult Work
This step, while a little complicated to understand, is instrumental to the social impact we have in the communities we work with, so it is worth taking a moment to read this. In ALL the regions we work in, until the last decade, smallholder cacao farmers had to perform significant post harvest processing of their own harvest before being able to sell it. They had two options: first, to ferment and dry their own cacao, or second, to "wash" the cacao.
Fermentation of cacao beans is where the flavor of chocolate is developed - you can read more in our Article on Cacao Fermenation. Through fermentation, the sugary cacao pulp is digested by yeast and bacteria, and the end result is cacao beans with no white fruit on them, ready for drying. In contrast, washing the cacao beans is a process that essentially soaks the cacao beans to remove the white fruit from them, and then dries them. Many local farmers drink cacao made from washed cacao, as it is less time intensive and also with less potency so they can drink copious amounts of it daily.
In either case, these are additional labor intensive steps taking the farmers' attention away from growing cacao and spending time with their families. Washed cacao receives far lower prices than fermented cacao as it has inferior flavor. And fermenting cacao is difficult, and most small farmers are not experts in fermentation nor do they have the volume of cacao (minimum several hundred pounds of wet cacao beans each week) needed to achieve quality results. So both options do not produce premium cacao that can be exported, and as a result fetches low local prices, keeping farmers and their communities in a poverty sustaining cycle.
Wet Cacao Purchasing Offers Higher Prices and Time Savings
Enter the wet cacao purchasing model. All our cacao is purchased from farmers “wet”, meaning that we buy the fresh fruit from the cacao farmers within 24 hours after the cacao pods have been harvested and split open, so that no post harvest processing is required from the farmers. We partner with local organizations that either establish buying stations in villages to purchase wet cacao from farmers, or that drive pickup trucks or even motorcycles all the way to the farmer’s locations, sometimes quite far out on adventurous roads to the edge of the rainforest! Only the highest quality cacao is sold to our buyers: cacao with zero insect damage, no germination of seeds, and no mold. On field visits, we’ve often watched farmers sort their wet cacao into two buckets: one for our purchasing, and one sold to less discerning buyers.
Across hundreds of farms, our local partners buy enough cacao to bring back to a locally run central fermentery, that with outside expertise is able to ferment and dry the wet cacao to international “fine” and “premium” standards. This allows the fermented and dried cacao to be sold on the premium international market to buyers like Ora Cacao, fetching far higher prices that support the logistics of exporting cacao, operation of the fermentery by local community members, and most importantly, give our farmers a better price for their harvest.
Our farmers consistently receive some of the highest prices in their countries for cacao, and notably, they receive more for selling us wet cacao than they previously received selling washed or even fermented and dried cacao. This additional capital received and the time savings allows our farmers to support their families better, and make investments back into their small farms. All of the partners we work with have pioneered this model of buying wet cacao in the regions they work in, often forcing other buyers in the region to adopt a similar model and raise their prices paid to farmers as well.