The uphill path for the people of Congo

12 April 2013 Cassandra Lea

View from the road – cocoa trees amongst the forest

 

Onsite in Watalinga DRC, in the Rwenzori Mountains

Theo has made an ongoing commitment to sourcing cocoa from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Together with our partner, Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), we are creating access to markets for Congolese cocoa farmers, helping them improve their crops and strengthen their businesses and lives.

Our periodic trips to origin build our relationships with farmers and partners and are a necessary part of doing business transparently. In March of this year, Nathan Palmer-Royston, Theo cocoa sourcing manager, and Dennis Macray, Theo sustainability advisor, traveled to Watalinga, a mountainous region along the Ugandan border, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They met with farmers, visited smallholder cocoa farms, conducted cocoa quality trainings with ESCO - our export partner, and brainstormed programmatic developments with ECI.

While Dennis and Nathan were traveling in Africa, our product development team back in Seattle was developing our Congo Confection Collection, designed for Mothers Day and inspired by the women of Congo (a portion of each box’s sale will benefit ECI’s work with women in the region). With women’s empowerment at the top of our minds, we asked our team to share their impressions of the women’s lives they encountered in Congo:

From Nathan:

The first thing that really struck me was just how incredibly remote this region is. All electricity comes from generators, all water is carried in from the nearest stream, and the roads out to the cocoa farms are only wide enough for a motorcycle. So as we were making our way to the farms, we would drive as far as the road would allow, then finish the last 40 minutes on foot through dense jungle battling the powerfully hot equatorial sun. The next realization was that we were traveling the same route that all of the cocoa travels to reach market… on foot.

Cocoa pods are carried out of the farms by foot, harvested all by hand

At times the trail was so steep we struggled to keep our footing on the worn dirt path. At one point we asked our farmer host if people ever fall down to which she responded with a chuckle, “When it is raining the only thing to do is fall.” It’s just incredible that these communities can bring their products to market at all.

                 

The main path connecting a cocoa community with the nearest marketplace a few kilometers away

 

 …And all of the cocoa is carried by women. It seemed that women in the DRC carry everything. They carry children, produce, water, charcoal and cooking oil, construction materials, cocoa, plantains, tomatoes and cassava to the markets. They carry everything, that is, but money, which is traditionally managed solely by the men in the family. Based on what we’ve heard from both men and women in small-holder agricultural communities around the world, including women in family financials has important potential to benefit the entire family and to empower women.

 

We work in Congo for many reasons (you can taste how delicious that work can be), but particularly because it is an area of the world that can greatly use our help.

From Dennis:

 “The DRC ranks at the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index. Those within the country that have the least power, typically women and children, are often the last to get what they need, from maternal and childrens healthcare to education and basic services.  During our travels I observed the daily routine of women who were up early, preparing meals with nothing more than a single cooking utensil and an open fire, collecting food and fuel during the day, carrying water long distances, and caring for children, while also managing other aspects of their homes and livelihoods.  If we can continue to work with our partners on the ground, like the Eastern Congo Initiative, to provide important income to farmers and their families in a way that benefits women and children and increases the welfare of their families and communities, the uphill path will be less difficult and lonely.”

Approaching our work in Congo holistically and utilizing the on-the-ground expertise of our partners at ECI, we are working to make a positive difference for people of the region. Buying Theo’s Congo products may seem small, but the impact of your choice echoes across the world.

Stay tuned for more on our work in Congo, learn more about ECI’s work here and buy your Mom (or anyone you love) a Congo 4-piece confection collection! $1 from your purchase price goes directly to ECI, supporting their work with farmers, mothers and families in eastern Congo.

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