The Cocoa Farming Futures Initiative is a game changer in terms of the way non-profit organisations in Grenada tell stories about their work. Since its inception in 2012, the CFFI blog has served as a platform for knowledge-sharing and the illustration of impact the organisation is making alongside local cocoa farmers.
It was only when I travelled up to Victoria in St Marks, where the organisation is based, that I realised that CFFI is the non-profit arm of the Diamond Chocolate Factory, the latest entrant into Grenada’s cocoa producing market.
One of the first things that strikes you about Paula Burdick, co-founder of CFFI, is her infectious enthusiasm. It’s refreshing and inspiring in equal measure to meet someone who refuses to let a lack of expertise dampen their ambition to make change.
With decades in the chocolate business it was easy for Paula and her husband Larry to spot that there was an opportunity being missed in Victoria. For years, cocoa from the St. Marks had been harvested and dried in the parish but all of the value was added when the beans were shipped for processing overseas.
Creating jobs in St Marks
Given their extensive experience supplying handcrafted chocolates to some of the world’s finest stores and restaurants, opening a chocolate factory that could ship single-origin bars to commercial outlets across the globe seemed like a great idea. The couple secured private investment from backers in Switzerland who suggested the factory include a model farm.
Paula confesses, “At one point my husband was getting so stressed out about the whole thing and the amount of money going into. I thought, ‘You know what? We’re going to be supplying so many jobs that I think the government could be involved.’
So she approached USAID, who said they would fund part of the costs of establishing the cocoa farm, with the stipulation that 15 people must be recruited from the NEWLO programme to take part in the CFFI programme.
Given that Victoria has historically been one of Grenada’s poorest towns, the couple’s counter-request was to be able to hire people from the local area. “We wouldn’t want to give a job to someone from Sauteurs if it’s clear that everyone here needs jobs,” says Paula.
When she approached NEWLO college, the group of young people she was introduced to were studying food processing. At that point, the factory was still months away from opening so she asked if any of them would be interested in doing some agricultural work.
“I just didn’t like agriculture at all”
On the steps facing the building, I sit and talk with Rawldon Mark and Kimon Julien, two of the NEWLO students who are working on the farm.
“We applied because we wanted to work in the factory, but the condition of the farm meant that a lot needed doing to it. So we got involved in clearing it up and we’ve been working on the land ever since,” says Kimon.
Rawldon tells me that, prior to working with CFFI, he had no desire to work in farming. “I just didn’t like agriculture at all,” he says. “My dad had a little farm garden where he would grow things like peas and pumpkin. He always begged me to go and help him, but I never would.”
I ask if it’s true that most young people don’t want to work in agriculture. The young man smiles and shrugs his shoulders. “Agriculture is a lot of work, it’s very hard,” he admits. “You don’t get a lot of young people wanting to get into agriculture as it hard work.”
While 15 students started at the Diamond Chocolate Factory farm, many dropped out along the way. When I visited the project only three of the original students were left. But it seems their hard work has paid off.
“Most of our friends don’t have anything to do; when the see us now they’re actually a little bit jealous of what we have. They don’t have anything to do, apart from sitting around at home,” Kimon says.
The CFFI approach to training the young volunteers has been a collaborative project. “When these young guys started last October, they knew nothing and I knew nothing about cocoa farming,” says Paula.
Fortunately, the area surrounding the factory is dotted with an array of small cocoa farms. CFFI has relied heavily on support from local cocoa growers who give advice on anything from digging drains to using a machete and how to prune the trees.
The chance to practice hands-on learning seems to have made a real difference to the young men. Kimon says, “What we’re doing now we learned in school, but we never had the chance to do the practical side of things; we just learned the principles from a book. To our teachers at the time the subject seemed fun but for most kids agriculture is actually quite boring.”
“I didn’t even know how to use a machete on the first day that I turned up. But here the older farmers have taught me so much. I feel like I’ve learned a lot and I enjoy it. I have the choice now if I’m going to stay outside or go into the factory, but I think I’m going to stay outside.”[tw-divider][/tw-divider]