Business & Economy

Cocoa, another ingredient in an Ecuadorian tourist city “selling happiness”

By Susana Madera

Quito, May 30 (EFE).- Nestled in Ecuador’s Andean heart, surrounded by waterfalls and fabulous overlooks, guarded by a volcano and accustomed to “selling happiness” via hiking and adventure, the city of Baños de Agua Santa also sweetens its visitors with a “Magic Factory” that seeks to end the “unfairness” of the chocolate industry by making chocolate from cocoa grown using ancestral and ecology-friendly techniques.

The method of cultivation is called Chakra Amazonica, and it is a model of sustainable land use whereby families manage their farms using an organic and biodiverse approach, which helps to provide social cohesion and food security, as well as to maintain cultural values and a megadiverse landscape.

In the “Chakra” (orchard) of Tena, high-quality aromatic cocoa is grown, which the Baños de Agua Santa Magic Chocolate Factory buys from the Kallari cooperative, a community organization made up of small producers who are members of the Kichwa indigenous group living in the Amazon province of Napo.

The Kallari cooperative, which directly and indirectly benefits more than 1,000 families, buys cocoa from the small producers at $135 per quintal (50 kilograms, or 112 pounds), $30 more than local merchants will pay, but the “Magic Factory” pays $190, Kallari administrator Bladimir Dahua told EFE in discussing “fair pricing.”

“By paying a better price, we contribute to the survival of the production chain for this organic Chakra cocoa managed by indigenous Amazonian women,” Guido Calderon, the director of the Monteselva Group, to which the Magic Chocolate Factory belongs, told EFE.

The additional money allows Kallari to provide technical advice, training, farming tools and other inputs to improve the living conditions and employment situation of small producers.

Catherine Cerda, a Kallari partner, told EFE that the cooperative also offers leadership workshops for women, who transmit ancestral knowledge via the Chakra, where cocoa is grown along with various kinds of timber, fruit, medicinal herbs, as well as edible and ornamental species.

“This creates unique characteristics that only the Chakra can produce because, due to its fragility, intensive monoculture cocoa must be constantly fumigated by plane,” said Calderon, adding that this business model has increased the income of small producers and has prevented the over-hunting of wild animals and logging from decimating the jungle.

Among Kallari’s customers are large chocolate producers, Dahua said, but the Magic Factory continues to keep its brand visible and “not everyone does that.”

Cerda said that “thanks to the Factory, many local and foreign tourists are made aware of” the planting process and ancestral knowledge, information they acquire after several visits to the production areas where Calderon experienced the “joy of living in the jungle,” something that he then wanted to share at his facilities.

Magic Factory visitors learn about the origin of the raw material, who produces it and under what conditions, all of which adds value to a product grown at 600 meters (about 2,000 feet) above sea level that does not taste bitter. As a result, the Factory produces “chocolates with a very high percentage of cocoa and a very small percentage of sugar.”

An integral part of the plan is to create a chocolate route from Baños – the main tourist destination in the Ecuadorian Andes for adventure, relaxation and fun – to Tena, said Calderon, adding that the cooperative has trained dozens of cocoa farmers.

“We’re teaching them the process of making chocolate and trying, some day, to emerge from this unjust situation” of being exporters “of the best cocoa in the world” but importers of chocolates.

The Swiss “have millions of cows and export cheese. We have thousands of (acres) of cocoa and we export cocoa, not chocolate,” he said, noting that some producers have wept with emotion at seeing their raw material turned into chocolate, ice cream and cakes at the Magic Factory, a tourist location where visiting children’s laughter and excitement blend together with the sweet aroma and flavor of chocolate.

In general, in “Baños de Agua Santa we sell happiness,” Calderon said in discussing the magic of a city of lovely views and hot springs, where elves are part of the culture and where there are enchanted forests, the devil has a cauldron and tourists can take photos of the Moon as it hovers above the hills.

EFE sm/bp

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