Thursday, September 4, 2014

Back to Aceh Timur and those intrepid cocoa farmers

August was a busy month in Aceh Timur.  Because of some careful perimeter patrol and the application of homemade organic fertilizer/pest control, the women have experienced a 50% reduction in diseases and bugs on the plants, and much less monkey-munching.  The fertilizer keeps the cocoa flowers on longer, meaning more pods form.

Now THOSE are nice healthy cocoa pods!

The women were also hard at work planning about 6,500 cocoa seeds for their nursery.  Seedlings are used both to graft onto old growth trees to encourage more pods to form, and to create stronger “parents” to replace dead or dying trees.

And this month JMD sponsored the fifth Finnish Embassy-funded  training: Marketing.  This is a really new concept for the women, who have traditionally been at the mercy of local collectors or, when the collectors do not arrive in time, other vendors will barter goods for cocoa beans.  Now the women have developed a system to collect the harvest in one place and contact the actual buyer, who will pay a premium price for organically grown beans, and will travel from the port city of Kuala Simpang to pick it up, now that the quantity makes it worth his while.

There are a lot of other aspects to the marketing training that were covered, but we think that this was the most important: to let the women see that they have a desirable product and that if they play their cards right and unify their harvests, they can control the game and not the other way round.  This is an enormously large step for these women, many of whom have never been part of any group before, have difficulty reading and writing, and who now are initiating contacts with cocoa production companies, keeping records, and recording sales.  

Maybe a large NGO would think that unless an agency serves thousands of people at a time, a project isn’t “cost effective.”  I think that in this small community, the success of 31 women is a pretty big deal for everyone.

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