Written by: Stephanie Hsieh
Last month Seattle-based artisan chocolate makers Theo Chocolate, in partnership with the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), have released two Congo chocolate bars made using organic, fair trade cocoa sourced from Congolese farmers.
The ECI is a non-profit organization founded by actor and director Ben Affleck. The organization takes a two-pronged approach to its work for and and on the behalf of the eastern ECI. On one hand they advocate for the area by encouraging private and public investment, raising public awareness of the region and its need for aid, and by helping drive changes in policy that will increase the USA’s engagement in the area. On the other hand the ECI is dedicated to funding local initiatives to improve the quality of life in the area by giving grants to community-based grassroots organizations. Theo Chocolate was founded by Joe Whinney, who first pioneered the importation of organic cocoa beans into the USA. Since then he and his company have remained committed to using organic, fair trade ingredients to make their artisan chocolate bars. Theo and ECI are working with ECI grantees such as Greenhouse, a Congolese cocoa cooperative, to develop training programs that help cocoa farmers improve the quality of their product and thus its worth on the international market.
Theo and ECI have chosen to unite behind cocoa for a number of reasons. According to Dhena Bassara, Director of Greenhouse, cocoa is an ideal crop for promotion because it is “a fast-growing, sustainable, high yield crop that commands high global prices, requires minimal re-planting, prevents deforestation, supports food security, and is a major source of income for women. It’s also ‘militia proof’.” This last part refers to the fact that cocoa is a crop with little value until it has been processed into chocolate as well as being labor-intensive to harvest. These factors combine to make it an unattractive target for the armed militias that still roam the eastern DRC, allowing cocoa farmers to reap the full benefits of their work.
These full benefits have already begun to make themselves known. According to Atandi Isaka, a Congolese cocoa farmer and cooperative member, “household incomes have effectively doubled giving farming families the opportunity to take their kids to school and improving their access to healthcare.” With Theo’s commitment to purchasing 300 tons of organic, fair trade Congolese cocoa, it seems that this partnership between them and the ECI is set to continue bearing fruit in the cocoa farming communities of the eastern Congo.
Theo Chocolate’s Pili Pili Chili and Vanilla Nib chocolate bars are available at $5 a bar through Whole Foods supermarkets and their physical and online stores.