Ecuador’s Vitaliano Sarabia – Cocoa Farmers Making a Difference

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One of the chocolate companies I’m absolutely in love with is Askinosie. They do so much more than make chocolate from the bean and have been for years. Whether it is employing women from the local shelter in the packaging of the bars or paying profits back to the farmers he works with Shawn Askinosie is, I feel, the kind of person all chocolate makers from Duffy to Nestle should aspire to be. Shawn Askinosie not only works with farmers directly to ensure they get paid the best price for the best but he also shares his profits from the chocolate with the farmers. This, in turn, enables the farmers to do more. It goes beyond Fairtrade to ethical and responsible chocolate making which I wish was happening more.

In Ecuador, well before he started working with Shawn Askinosie, Vitaliano Sarabia had been a proponent of improving the cocoa growing in Ecuador. Passionate about improving the Arriba Nacional strain, he had planted on two plantations some of the best trees available but that was not enough. Besides ensuring he was creating the best beans possible, he also started working with and heading up the body of the Union of Rural Cocoa Organizations of Ecuador (UNOCACE). He felt that cocoa farmers were the guardians of biodiversity and that they had a responsibility to grow the best beans possible. He had planted criollo trees EET 558, EET 578, TSE 579 and TSE 103’s (but no CCN51) which were selected by INIAP of Ecuador for monitoring and evaluation for organic certification among others. He was always passionate about quality and taste – and then he met Shawn Askinosie.

Vitaliano Saravia, as president of the Union of Cooperatives of Ecuador cacao (UNOCASE) since at least 2004, expresses his passion in many ways about cocoa. At a meeting about cocoa and quality, he stated that (I used Google Translate – this statement was in Spanish) “the cocoa itself is identified with its production and begins to appreciate what you have. With training it is possible to change. With the prices we have suffered three years, but first we get worried because the quality factor behind this are the prices.” Which I take to mean that origin chocolate is becoming increasingly popular and while cocoa prices have been poor, farmers should not sacrifice quality to this lower price.

In fact in 2010 Vitaliano Saravia spoke at a conference about cacao biodiversity in Ecuador (again, in Spanish) as UNOCASE representative where around 250 Dons and similar head farmers came together to talk about growing, cultivation, biodiversity and fermentation among other topics. He is absolutely passionate about fine cocoa and so the perfect match for someone like Shawn Askinosie to show how amazing great beans brown well and fermented properly can create premium chocolate. Now, Shawn does not charge as much as other craft chocolate makers and yet he not only produces some of the best chocolate in the world, he also shares the profits with the farmers.

“This day was my best day so far in the chocolate business. By far,” writes Shawn Askinosie while corresponding from Ecuador with his mentor Jack Stack. Stake in the Outcome™, a program founded by Jack Stack, based on the principal that if workers share in the end success, they will hold a greater stake in the process along the way. Stake in the Outcome™ was originally established for employees in the workplace but Shawn took it “upstream” to the farms.

“As we left, the farmers gathered around me and said that they had something to say. They told me that nobody had ever come to visit them and thank them, let alone share money with them. They said that they wanted to give us their “premier crop and they wanted to sell to us again,” states Shawn in 2009. And the result is just as he had hoped—the opportunity to make higher quality chocolate with higher quality beans while sharing with the farmers who make it possible.

Shawn Askinosie has helped Vitaliano Saravia sell his beans for better than Fairtrade prices, ensuring that Vitaliano can not only continue growing and fermenting premium cocoa but also continue to spread the message that good work results in higher cocoa prices and better prices for beans. From being one of the first farmers certified by the Ecuadorian Agency for Quality Assurance of Agro (Agrocalidad) for fine cocoa aroma and flavour to working with Askinosie to demonstrate to the world how excellent Ecuadorian cocoa can be, Don Vitaliano Saravia is a farmer making a difference in the world of cocoa.

Multiple sources were used for this article including:

About Judith Lewis

Editor and chief blogger at Mostly About Chocolate. Expert SEO. judge at various chocolate awards, wine awards, and all the Search Awards. Judith is passionate about food, wine, and travel.

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