In 2011, there was an idea. An idea rooted in values like sharing, rewarding and giving recognition where recognition is due. It was an idea inspired by meetings with cocoa farmers from Africa and Latin America, who carry the heavy loads so we get to enjoy the fruits of their labor. In 2020, the year more known for halting developments rather than propagating them, that idea came to fruition: meet Treegether, the platform that gives meaning to cocoa farming and aims to bring personal recognition to farmers and producers by allowing consumers to sponsor their very own cocoa tree.
During ComRisk last week, we’ve once again talked about the global economy, the impact of an unprecedented pandemic and all other things ‘macro’. Key topics included the covid-19 impact on markets – including sugar, coffee and cocoa –, the latest developments in risk technologies, best practices around operational risks, and more. You can read our full report here. Today we would like to talk to you about a smaller but rather more inspiring topic: Treegether, an amazing Swiss project that supports cocoa farmers from across the world by connecting them – and their specialty final products – directly to you, the consumer.
The Treegether philosophy
“Our primary ambition is to establish a direct commercial and human relationship that is fair and rewarding for our cocoa producers whose social and financial situation is often precarious”, says Fabien Coutel, founder of Treegether. “Thanks to the sponsorship of cocoa trees, we create exchanges between the producers and the sponsors of their trees.”
“Cocoa farming is a physically demanding job that involves working in hot and humid climates, carrying heavy loads and risk of theft. There is little mechanization or infrastructure. In addition, once the cocoa leaves the plantation, the producers have no feedback on it and only a few of them have even tasted chocolate!”
Coutel has extensive experience in both cocoa and chocolate and is a member of the “Cocoa of Excellence” jury. He is passionate about food, people’s development and the environment. His motivation to share his visits to cocoa farmers and to bring people pride and pleasure through food led him to the creation of Treegether, together with co-founders Matthieu Vidal and Hubert Hoondert of Cocoasource. They bring cocoa beans from affiliated farmers in Africa and South America to the foot of the Ticinese Lepontine Alps in their native Switzerland, where their very own chocolate master Bruno Buletti – “one of the best panettone makers in the world!” – works his magic to turn them into delicious final product. Buletti, as one of the rare Swiss artisans to produce chocolate from the cocoa bean, is uncompromising on the quality of the raw materials, which is one of the reasons he was immediately enthusiastic about the project.
The Treegether family
“Producers are invisible to consumers and we hope to change this situation”, Coutel continues. “We want you to get to know your cocoa farmers and thus give them the recognition that they do not currently have and yet is so important.”
The second goal of Treegether is to provide consumers with chocolate that has more meaning than any other because you know its history, origin, producer and above all because you yourself are a part of it. “Our uniqueness is to work in small clusters in the plantations and to make your chocolate in small volumes so that it contains cocoa from the trees you sponsor.” Through sponsoring, you get to meet the women and men who produce the cocoa at the heart of your chocolate. “It is like going to the market, meeting the farmers and understanding where, how and by whom your food is produced.”
Meet the farmers
The farmers that are the very foundation of Treegether can be found in countries like Ivory Coast, Madagascar and Peru. The first ever partner of the project is Joseph Kiwanuka from Uganda. His home country has long been renowned for its coffee, yet little known for its cocoa – until recently. Thanks to several prestigious international awards, Uganda is becoming a respected player in the chocolate industry as well. Kiwanuka, a meticulous, patient and curious farmer and father of two young children, is excited to get to know the consumer and to become visible in the chocolate world.
“Sponsorship is a unique experience that connects you with tropical lands and allows us to make sure our farmers our proud of their work, and are rightly valued.” Another member of the family is Odile Zara, a warm-hearted farmer hailing from the biodiverse island of Madagascar. All her cocoa is organic. Twice a week, she takes her harvest by zebu to Ankatafa, a small village on the banks of the Sambirano. She ferments her cocoa there for six days in wooden crates, then brings it home to dry in the sun.
In Peru, Edelmira Quiroz Ponce is the proud flag bearer of the South American presence in the global Treegether community. As a mother of two little girls, Edelmira inherited cocoa farming from her mother with whom she works on her plantation. Nestled in the Peruvian forest, the plantation can only be reached by zip line. Edelmira’s cocoa is certified “Organic” and “Fairtrade“. And then there’s Ambroise N’Koh from Ivory Coast, equally adamant to add his personal passion to the quality of his cocoa. N’Koh practices organic farming and agroforestry. His love of sharing his expertise has made him a regular on local television.
Final product: chocolates!
The cocoa from your tree will be carefully processed in small batches, which are converted into exquisite chocolates by Treegether’s Swiss master. “We want our chocolate to reveal different cocoa aromas”, says Coutel, “while respecting the work of all those individual cocoa farmers.” That basic principle is reflected in the process as well as the choices underlying the final product in terms of type and flavor. The beans that cross the ocean to arrive in Switzerland are roasted, crushed, winnowed, ground and mixed with ingredients selected by Buletti. Together with its master chef, Treegether has developed dark and milk chocolate with the cocoa from each producer.
“Our 65 percent cocoa dark chocolate will please any cocoa lover – but our 42 percent cocoa Swiss milk chocolate allows for a decent cocoa taste too.” All cocoa beans are processed in small batches, so Treegether can guarantee that all twelve chocolate bars you receive as part of the sponsorship contain cocoa from your tree.”
Sponsorship: chocolate you are part of
By sponsoring a cocoa tree, you are connected to the land where your very own cocoa grows, whilst the farmers are connected to the people who enjoy the fruit of their work.
The cocoa farmers take great care of your tree, and in turn Treegether makes sure that they are paid fair prices and are supported and feel valued. A development project is put in place, defined together with the farmers. Final products will be delivered in two instalments. That is six bars, twice a year, from your very own tree.
The sponsorship lasts one year, but can be renewed afterwards. “Through a Treegether sponsorship, you enable a cocoa farmer’s work to be meaningful. The farmer is paid a better price and benefits from the project. The consumer in turn will be connected with a cocoa tree and with the farmer who looks after it to produce the very best cocoa.”
Last but not least, it makes for a great gift for the holidays, as you can gift a sponsorship as a present to friends and family. Obviously Agiboo has already sponsored a tree through the Treegether project. Join us and visit treegether.com.