Engaged Ethics In Action: A better future for cocoa farmers

29 Aug 2017

Environment & Ethics

Doing the right thing, not just saying it. How we’re building a better future for cocoa farmers in Ghana and Saint Lucia.

At Hotel Chocolat, we believe in forging closer links between chocolate lovers and cocoa farmers. We think growing cocoa for chocolate deserves the same respect as growing grapes for wine.

That’s why we’ve spent the last 15 years helping the Osuben cocoa farming community in Ghana and built an ethical trading partnership with over 180 local farmers in Saint Lucia, island home to our cocoa plantation.

Growing cocoa communities

Engaged Ethics is the name we coined for our direct programme to create sustainable cocoa growing communities. It’s a long-term approach, which has led to a remarkable set of results so far…

Osuben, Ghana

In 2015, we opened the Osuben Medical Centre in Ghana with the help of donations from Tasting Club members. It now provides crucial healthcare to families living nearly 30 kilometres from the nearest hospital with limited access to transport.

The local community showed their appreciation by appointing Hotel Chocolat’s Adam Geileskey and Megan Roberts as tribal chiefs or ‘nanas’, with a special responsibility to help the village develop its cocoa industry.

Ethical trading

Our shared vision for Osuben is a cocoa-farming community that’s wealthy enough to invest in projects like the medical centre without needing outside help. So we plan to source most of the cocoa we use from Ghana via an ethical trading scheme by 2019.

Modelled on our successful Island Growers programme in Saint Lucia, we’ll be paying local farmers a premium far above the standard price they’d get on the bulk cocoa market.

Sourcing water for 600,000 seedlings

Since 2001, we’ve worked with the Green Tropics group, a local NGO, to drill wells and set up 12 cocoa nurseries. These supply farmers with 120,000 high-quality cocoa seedlings a year. We aim to consolidate these into four big nurseries supplying 150,000 young cocoa seedlings a year each – that’s a total of 600,000.

This will give Osuben farmers robust, disease-resistant cocoa trees that give much more cocoa for the same amount of work.

Empowering farmers

“I used to think it was enough just to pay cocoa farmers properly,” says Adam. “But after talking to farmers in Ghana and visiting Ivory Coast, it’s clear we need to empower them with education on how to make their farms sustainable.”

Inspired by what we’ve achieved on our Rabot Estate plantation in Saint Lucia, we’re setting up a local 10-acre model farm for educating cocoa farmers.

“Our aim is to teach best farming practices like planting, pruning, harvesting, fermenting, drying, using fertilisers and controlling disease, all to improve productivity.”

Saint Lucia, Rabot Estate

Investing in our own estate on Saint Lucia in 2006 gave us the chance to take Engaged Ethics to a new level. There was a mountain to climb, the estate was run down and across the island interest in cocoa was at an all-time low.

Confidence had dipped so far that the previous owners were making more money selling carrots to local hotels than from cocoa on this beautiful 140-acre estate.

Unfair trading

The issue was this: there was only one route to market. All cocoa had to be sold via a single export organisation, with no guarantees. If sold, the price was based on a fixed base rate for world bulk cocoa, less middleman deductions. All for a wait of around six months to get paid!

This unfair scenario meant cocoa trading was on a terminal nosedive across Saint Lucia. Rare old cocoa groves were being dug up to plant bananas!

A new approach

It took us two years to turn our own estate into a model cocoa farm. Then we set about creating a Cocoa Resurgence across Saint Lucia. We spoke to farmers outlining a new, fairer approach…

  • We buy the whole cocoa crop, so growers can reinvest in their farms.
  • Payment is direct, without middleman deductions, at a fair price for the quality of cocoa beans.
  • We offer free technical help and our top quality cocoa seedlings (propagated at our Cocoa Research Centre, Rabot Estate) at a subsidised rate.
  • Wet beans are bought just after harvest so we can pay a premium price and take control of quality in the fermentation and drying stages.

Working with 180 island growers

We’re very proud that we have been able to create a blueprint for sustainable cocoa growing and are now working with 180 Saint Lucian farmers. Paying a fair price for cocoa depends on it tasting great and the support of our customers…

Connect with cocoa at Rabot

Our ethically grown, roasted beans have a fabulously deep and nutty accent. Connect with cocoa grown on this 250-year-old estate at Rabot, our boutique hotel on Saint Lucia overlooking the dramatic Piton mountains. Transform beans grown in our dappled cocoa groves into your own chocolate with our Tree-to-Bar experience or try our cocoa-inspired menu overlooking the Caribbean Sea on the terrace of Boucan restaurant.

Closer to home, Rabot 1745 restaurant and store in London’s Borough Market is a haven for foodies, showcasing the delicate nuances of cocoa in cooking and chocolate.

Fairer farming practices result in some very fine cocoa, we’ve raked back the sugar in our Rare & Vintage range, try Ghana 75% Supermilk or our multi-award winning Saint Lucia 100% Dark.

A final word from one of our island partners…

‘Thanks to Hotel Chocolat, the cocoa trees are singing again’
Island Grower, Charles Augustin of La Dauphine Estate.

Beautifully put. You can’t say fairer than that.