Butuo, Liberia

Sorting party

Source: Liberation Cocoaliberia

Region: Butuo, Nimba Province

Country: Liberia

Source Type: Farmer collective

Beans: Purchased (fermented and dried) from collective member farmers

Fermentation Style: Individually processed by farmers

Tasting Notes: caramel, butter, cinnamon

The beans for our Liberian chocolate bar come from Liberation Cocoa—an extraordinary collective wrought from the challenge of postwar Liberia.

The project came about after nearly two decades of a civil war that left the Liberian economy crumpled and 150,000 child soldiers lost, looking for a way back into society. Sheikh Abu Turay, a visionary social entrepreneur who survived fourteen years in a U.N. refugee camp, devised a double-edged solution to provide both healing and a way to help resuscitate the economy. The answer? Cacao.

Cacao has been grown in Liberia since the early 1900’s, but the civil war crippled the funds and infrastructure that used to support farmers. The Agricultural Ministry cut off capital that was slated for cocoa production, and the Central Agricultural Research Institute—a critical hub for sharing knowledge—was destroyed and looted.

Even though the war is over, farmers are still faced with all kinds of challenges. Liberia’s infrastructure is still fragile, its road system unreliable, and farmers’ access to credit is very limited. Farmers are often too disconnected from the global market and its prices to have much bargaining power against the middlemen buying their cacao, meanwhile crop pests and the fungus that causes Black Pod Rot provide a real threat. In the end, many smallholders have gradually shifted to new crops like rice, or moved their cocoa production into Guinea and Sierra Leone where sales are more reliable. Since the war, the government has placed a good deal of effort and resources into marketing Liberian cacao, but raising quality is another story. Liberation Cocoa sees quality as a road to a more stable, sustainable economy, and a higher quality of life.

Though it’s still a fledgling, Liberation Cocoa is forging a new, hopeful path to the future by providing rehabilitation and reintegration programs to former child soldiers, teaching its members how to work revived cacao farms in various capacities. Together, they are nurturing the new roots of a lost industry, building a sustainable model that has begun producing some of the best cocoa in the world.

As a collective, Liberation Cocoa combines cocoa from all of its member producers, who ferment their lots individually. Although the result of this style can be variable, we’ve been smitten with the results so far—an entirely distinctive earthiness and low notes rich with umami. We haven’t yet been able to visit the farm due to last year’s Ebola outbreak, but we plan to visit this year.

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