Becca Roebber, marketing director at indi chocolate shares her experience working with cacao farmers in Bocas del Toro:
Cacao is grown locally in the province of Bocas del Toro, Panama and has historically been sold to first world countries who produce the chocolate. This has made it very difficult for cacao farmers to make a living. I had the opportunity to work with a group of indigenous Ngäbe ("no-bay") women to create finished chocolate products as an additional way of generating income to support their families.
Traditionally, the Ngäbe people make and drink chocolate for its medicinal properties and to give them strength.Many of the local women have memories of their grandmothers roasting the cacao over a fire to make chocolate, but most had never learned how to make chocolate themselves.
After learning the basic steps for making chocolate, the women worked together as inventors to create unique recipes. Their chocolate included ingredients like salt, cinnamon, fried plantains, vanilla and coconut. They designed a label with a cacao tree with their story and ingredients on the back. They also decided to organize themselves into a group called Mery Nöba, which means women chocolatiers in the local dialect. As part of the process of forming a group, they voted on a directive board.
At the beginning I was unsure whether or not the women would elect to work collectively or take the knowledge they had learned from the workshops and work individually. The women were skeptical of working with one another at first but ended up finding a real sense of community over the course of the training. That was the most empowering part of the project. They were so excited by what they were learning that they would continue working into the evenings after the workshops ended each day. Not only are they united and proud of the products they produced, but they are also carrying on the traditional practice of making chocolate.
There are still opportunities to continue supporting this group in refining their products and seeking out locations where they can sell their products. The progress they made in two weeks, however, was very impressive. By the end of the training, people in the neighborhood were curiously poking their heads in and were ready to purchase some of the groups’ handmade artisan chocolate.