Charismatic, biologically diverse and rich in landscapes, Virunga is one of the most important regions in the world. Located in the rift valley, it sits along a uniquely rich geological formation classified as World Heritage Site in 1979. The protected area is home to the last 800 mountain gorillas, endangered due to deforestation and a growing population practicing irresponsible agriculture. The war-ridden country is rated as having one of the poorest economies in the world, with a GDP per capita of $180 and over 70% of the population living below the poverty line. During more than 10 years of war, millions of people in Virunga have become displaced and are turning to small-scale farming as a means to build a new life.
Since all cacao comes originally from South America, in Africa you only find cacao which was brought there in colonial times and is therefore called Forastero (The stranger). As this refers to all cacao coming originally from the Amazon River Basin, it is also called Amazonian.
The genetics of this cacao are still unknown, but one thing is for sure: it shows like no other how important soil, climate and skillfull processing are for the flavour of chocolate – similar to wine. The deep dark Original Beans Cru Virunga 70% bar mirrors its rainforest home as well as the big learning steps of the farmers regarding fermentation and drying.
Since 2008, Original Beans has supported local cacao smallholders in earning a stable income producing and preserving organic-certified Virunga cacao. This work is ongoing, as more farmers are enrolled, additional replanting infrastructure are built and an indigenous cacao conservation NGO is developed. The future conservation cacao strategy is not only about developing 1000 hectares of shade-grown, certified cacao but about working towards a cacao conservation culture where sustainable land-use, conservation values and supply chain incentives produce measurable rainforest protection.
On the ground, we:
- Support establishment of nurseries to produce cacao and shade trees
- Support reforestation of cacao-agroforestry systems that function as buffer zones and a sustainable land-use on the borders of the Virunga National Park, home of the last 800 mountain gorillas.
- Support local farmer cooperatives in cacao conservation
- Help farmers achieve organic certification
- Provide training to improve cacao fermentation and drying techniques