Taza’s Sourcing Manager, Jesse Last, recently returned from a visit to Haiti, where he and Taza founder Alex Whitmore finalized the first purchase of organic, premium Haitian cacao ever made by a US chocolate maker. The beans are currently in transit over the Atlantic, and will arrive at Taza later in July. We can’t wait to share them with you in our stone ground chocolate! Here, Jesse shares his perspective on this exciting new relationship.
When Pierre speaks, his long fingers dance through the air and his dark eyes sparkle. As a Haitian cacao farmer in the country's north, he has seen hard days. "The farmers here, we used to leave the cacao pods on the trees to rot," he says. "Or, we would cut them down to feed to the farm animals." At the time, it was not worth his effort to dry and transport the cacao. The dominant buyer in the region advertised one price but paid farmers a lesser one, in turn selling the beans into cheap commodity markets.
Alex and I believe that Pierre's cacao is worth far more. Properly harvested, fermented and dried, his beans can become premium cacao that meets the high quality standards of Taza Chocolate. But Pierre and hundreds of other farmers like him did not have the experience or capacity needed to make this a reality. They – and Taza – needed a partner.
Produits Des Iles SA, or PISA, is a new cacao processor and exporter in the country’s north. Historically a coffee company with a strong national brand, PISA decided just last year to expand into cacao. Their first move was to form a small but dedicated team. They convinced Chiquito, a Haitian with years experience fermenting cacao in the Dominican Republic, to return to Haiti. They hired a young French expatriate, Aline, to run the organic program and post-processing operations. And they appointed Max, a native of the north with as many friends as outlandish stories, to run farmer outreach.
When Alex and I met the PISA team on our first trip to Haiti, farmer recruitment and organic certification had yet to begin. The fermentation process was a work in progress, and wild grass grew where the drying tunnels would be built. Still, we recognized the attributes of a good Direct Trade partner. Chiquito, Aline and Max were committed to doing business the right way – paying high prices for high quality cacao. They knew the community and the leaders they would need to engage. And in a demonstration of dedication, Aline gave up the comforts of a city apartment and moved to the second floor of the processing facility's office to oversee operations 24/7.
During our most recent visit, we saw incredible progress. Max has recruited 1,326 small scale farmers into the PISA network, and 878 hectares of land have been certified organic. Chiquito and Aline have refined the fermentation process, and two beautiful drying tunnels glisten brightly beneath the tropical sun. When Alex and I entered PISA’s clean, cool warehouse, we broke into huge smiles: hundred of bags of cacao were piled high, only days away from becoming the first organic-certified, Haitian cacao to enter the US.
As I listen to Pierre, I understand the difference that PISA has already made in his life. He now harvests all of his cacao rather than leave it on the tree or feed it to the animals. He is paid nearly double what he received in the past, and he is excited to plant more trees, because, he explains, "Cacao is a crop of the future." Taza Chocolate’s partnership with PISA has just begun, but the energy of Direct Trade is already infusing hope and pride into Haitian farmers’ lives.