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Chocolate and a Shoddy Bridge

Chocolate and a Shoddy Bridge

Hello and good day!

Take a look at the photo.

One of the very fascinating features of the landscape out where we buy cacao are the bridges. This is a picture of my brother Brian and our business partner and cacao farmer, Noe Vasquez.

There are 30 - 40 bridges like this one out in campo and our cacao buying team crosses one or two of these on a daily basis during the cacao harvest season. This photo was taken during the dry season and that little river is low.

When it is raining heavily, that river gets up high enough that you can't see any of the rocks. You can not drive a vehicle across this bridge. The vehicles must be parked on the other side of a fairly long and skinny dirt path that runs from this bridge to the road.

Cacao farmers cross this bridge using animals loaded down with cacao. Or they cross carrying buckets and bags filled with cacao in their hands or up on their shoulders.  

Our team helps in this effort.

These bridges get slippery when it rains and the whole thing is very dicey. But what else can be done?

Our farm partners live out there and the only way they can make money is to get that cacao across these bridges. And the only way we can make more chocolate is to get cacao across these bridges.

So we do what we've got to do.

Sometimes I worry that I might be overcooking just how remote the location is where we buy cacao and how spotty the infrastructure really is. I don't want to come off as exaggerating or being too promotional.

On the other hand, we've been doing this work for so long that it all kind of feels normal to us, and I fear that I may go too far in the other direction. I don't want to be too blasé and not give enough credit to our buying team and the perilous work they've been doing day in and day out for so long now.

By the way, it isn't just us who does this kind of work.

A lot of the food we eat, and the clothes we wear, and the devices we use, start out in some remote place way, way off the beaten path. And there are folks out there who do really hard, dangerous work and get paid a pittance for it.

Meanwhile, there are players in the supply chain who do much easier and less risky work who get paid a lot more, and the only reason is that they were born in a different place.

This is a part of life that is truly "unfair".

I'm not saying that one person has a "better" life than another.On the whole, my experience is that people are equally happy no matter where they live. Some people are naturally sunny and optimistic and smiley. Others are pessimistic and miserable.

That cuts across culture and geography.

A lot of cacao farmers who live on the more challenging side of this bridge live better, healthier lives than very well off affluent folks here in the United States.

But the unfair thing is the choice.

A person in the United States, under the right circumstances, can choose what they'd like to do with relative ease.

A cacao farmer in the district of Huarango, on the more remote side of this bridge, is very likely to be a farmer the rest of their life, whether they like it our not.

Unless good companies come along and pay them what they are worth.

With more money, their kids can go to better schools and see the world and have opportunity.  And if they'd like, they can stay in the family business.

Or they can get higher paying jobs and send money back home. Some of the money that gets sent back home can be spent on keeping these bridges in repair. Here is another thing that will be very foreign to somebody in the United States.

There is no government that maintains these bridges regularly. There is no government administrator or politician to call.

This bridge leads to a village that is on the outskirts of the district of Huarango. The district of Huarango is on the outskirts of the city of Jaen. The city of Jaen belongs to the department of Cajamarca. Departments in Peru are the same as states in the United States.

Jaen is on the very outskirts of the department of Cajamarca, far from the capital city where lobbying happens. And the department of Cajamarca itself is far from Lima, the capital of Peru, where most of the public works funding originates.

So there is nobody to call.

If that bridge breaks down, a bunch of townspeople get together and come up with a plan to fix it. Folks out in campo are some of the brightest, most resourceful, most stoic people you will ever meet.

They have to be.

And they deserve to be paid more. Not just where we work, but everywhere.

How? I believe that the answer is to buy from companies who engage in direct trade.

If a company buys raw materials direct at the source, is vertically integrated, meaning they make and sell their own stuff in addition to purchasing raw materials, and they sell direct to customers, not through retailers and distributors, that is the model that creates surpluses for farmers and raw material producers. Not just in Peru, but all over the world.

And that is the model we are passionate about.

The person who is hoofing cacao across a slippery bridge should get paid more than a person who fills out PDFs to show ownership changes, which is all that a lot of brokers and middle men do.

Anyhow, thanks for letting me get on a soapbox today.

Just about any clothing we wear, any food we eat, and any device we use has somebody doing this kind of work somewhere in the supply chain.

It is worthy of thinking about, admiring, and appreciating. It isn't good to forget those folks or take them for granted.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!