Under the shade of an awning, Rosine Bekoin leans over a fire, stirring a pan of roasting cacao beans — the main raw ingredient of chocolate.
A rich, fruity scent rises into the air. Around her, 10 other women sing as they pound roasted beans into cocoa powder using 3ft-long pestles. Some, like Rosine, are in jeans and T-shirt, others in colourful wraps.
They caramelise sugar over a fire, mix in pounded cacao, nutmeg and homemade palm oil, then roll the thick paste across a table to cool — a process known as tempering.
As the chocolate hardens in the sun, Rosine cuts it into bars, ready for sale.
The end product is a work in progress, but is caramel-sweet with a crispy texture, rather like hard-baked biscuits — and the bars are going down a storm locally, including with students and teachers from the nearby school.
Women play a critical role in cacao farming here in Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s biggest producer of the crop.
However, they receive very little income for all their hard work — slightly more if, like Rosine, they’re Fairtrade-certified.
Determined to change their fortunes, she’s part of CAYAT, a farming co-operative based in Adzopé town, in the south east of the country, where she’s encouraging her colleagues to make their own bean-to-bar chocolate. “In the beginning, we failed,” she says. “But we’ve learnt from this and now we’re succeeding.”
Not far away is Rosine’s farm. It’s a small, shady orchard sprouting purple and yellow cacao pods of the criollo and forastero varieties, which were introduced to West Africa over a century ago from South America, as well as mercedes, a more modern hybrid.
Criollo is the most sought-after of the three, a ‘fine’ cacao beloved of chocolatiers, with a fruitier, more floral flavour and aroma.
Rosine inherited this plot from her grandmother and has been farming it for over 10 years. She harvests the crop twice a year and ferments the beans over six days in banana leaves to reduce bitterness. Afterwards, she dries them on bamboo racks in the sun.
For Rosine, the next step is to build a factory, improve the chocolate and employ the families of the co-operative. “When you have women in charge, they always look to improve conditions,” she adds.
Three companies supporting local chocolate farmers
The company aims to end slavery and buys Fairtrade cacao from farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. The range includes bars with sea salt, almonds and pretzels.
This small outfit makes chocolate from the world’s rarest and most ancient cacao in Ecuador. The chocolate is then aged and infused in barrels.
Bars are dairy-free and Fairtrade certified. All ingredients are organic, right down to the added orange and mint.
Published in Issue 10 (winter 2020) of National Geographic Traveller Food