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Jungle Chocloate Wednesday, 26 March 2008 by Hannah Simon As more people become aware of the fair trade campaign, companies are struggling to keep up with the demand for locally grown products.. A chocolate factory in Quito, however, is working with Amazonian farmers in Agua Santa to produce chocolate grown and processed in Ecuador providing an alternative to foreign massproduced chocolate. Yachana Gourmet is part of the Yachana Foundation for Integrated Education and Development (FUNEDESIN). It is a non-profit directed by Douglas McMeekin that was launched to protect Ecuadorâ€™s rainforest. In the mid-1990s, FUNEDESIN started promoting the cultivation of cacao, which is native to the rainforest and has a stable price. Cacao is also shade-grown, allowing farmers to harvest the plant without cutting down trees or destroying parts of the jungle.
Yachana, which means “a place for learning” in Kichwa, launched Yachana Gourmet and began buying and producing chocolate in 2000. By buying directly from the farmers, Yachana Gourmet removes intermediaries and pays 25 to 35 percent more than other companies might pay. Yachana Gourmet’s sales and marketing manager Laura McCurry says, “The advantage of working with small farms is that we pay a fair-trade price. The money that Yachana Gourmet makes goes back into the community where the farmers are from, supporting education and health care initiatives.” Many farmers in the Amazon turn to environmentally destructive practices to make money like unregulated logging and cattle ranching. By promoting a sustainable crop like cacao, Yachana Gourmet improves the region’s long-term ability to succeed economically while protecting its natural resources. The factory moved from the jungle to Quito in 2002 and currently has five employees meaning that the entire process is personalised. Yachana Gourmet has created a unique system of using cacao “nibs,” or parts of the cacao bean sweetened by sugar cane syrup sourced from the Amazon. “The great thing about nibs is that it’s the healthiest way to eat chocolate,” McCurry says. Without artificial flavorings, chocolate is rich in antioxidants and can help with digestion. Yachana Gourmet currently processes approximately 50 metric tons of cacao products per year and mostly works with ‘cacao nacional,’ a variety of chocolate known throughout Ecuador. Those interested in purchasing chocolate grown and processed in Ecuador can find Yachana Gourmet products in the Magic Bean Hostel in La Mariscal, as well as in the artisans’ market on Jorge Washington y Reina Victoria. Read about Yachana Lodge here!