Connecting the dots
The story of this project is more like a fairytale of connecting many different elements and opportunities for creating a socially and ecologically-responsible future.
What began as an Ecovillage Design Education (EDE is certified by Gaia Education and recognised by UNITAR) course has blossomed into a local and international collaboration that will potentially bear many fruits over and above the course itself- primarily for local, marginalised cacao farmers.
An EDE with a difference
What makes this EDE quite different from the many others that are happening all over the world is that for this course the participants are actually completing an integrated-permaculture design for two budding ecovillages.
It has to be said that the setting is absolutely breath-taking with the main “classroom” overlooking the beautiful Rio de Contas and the ecovillages being on either side of the river. Thus we travel by boat to and fro to share meals and gather information for the designs.
The fact that within this EDE is included a 120-hour Permaculture Design Course (PDC) is also quite unique- certified by Permaculture Education Africa no less! Clearly we find permaculture design to be the most valuable tool in harmonising the community and their vision with the landscape.
Thus, for this course, not only are the participants receiving and applying the practical skills in designing and starting an eco-community, they are also providing an invaluable service to these two communities with comprehensive ecovillage designs. Furthermore, the participants have the option to stay on as volunteers and begin to implement the designs.
6 of the 14 participants are from native communities and have received bursaries.
Connecting ethical business with local organic cacao growers
As community designers we are very aware of the situation of the local cacao growing communities. Thus when we applied for financial assistance for our EDE we chose a renowned ethical business that uses cacao to explore possibilities of mutually-beneficial collaboration.
LUSH is an international company that produces cosmetics with a high level of natural, organic and fair-trade ingredients. Moreover, they have a reputation for supporting effective grass-roots projects.
In our funding application we made clear our commitment to help facilitate the formation of a cacao-growers cooperative that could perhaps deal more directly with LUSH. (On average cacao is re-sold 12 times between the producer and the consumer!)
In their proposal to the coop LUSH has offered to fix a price for the growers which would provide a much deeper sense of security for a crop that is subject to significant market fluctuations.
LUSH has kindly offered the funding we requested and are sending two representative in May this year to assess further possibilities.
Connecting with a local NGO that helps raise ecological awareness among the cacao growers
Mecenas da Vida is a local organisation that is working closely with small-scale farmers to help introduce agroforestry methods as an alternative to the slash-and-burn that is commonly used. They have developed an ingenious formula that raises awareness on climate change and provides an opportunity for carbon off-setting for local businesses and tourists while subsequently channeling financial aid for many struggling cacao farmers.
Mecenas da Vida forms an important link in the puzzle that will help form the cooperative and connecting LUSH with the growers. Furthermore the Mecenas have a very strong ethic towards Earth-care and personal development.
The founders are under consideration to receive an Ashoka fellowship.
Creating opportunities for local economies
The extraction of cacao butter from the bean requires a special industrial machine. It is remarkable that in the entire “Costa da Cacao” of Bahia, Brazil, there is no decent chocolate to be found- the challenge of cacao butter extraction being an important influence in this.
We are proposing for LUSH to assist the cooperative in purchasing a machine to extract cacao butter which would allow the growers to gain even more profit for their produce. The cooperative would be assured for 25 tonnes of cacao butter going to LUSH.
Helping establish a women’s project of chocolate production (and local, small-scale natural cosmetic production) would also be an important opportunity.
Other cacao growers could also convert their crop to cacao butter to be sold at a higher price for chocolate production as well as exposing them to Mecenas da Vida and the advantages of growing ecologically, in the process.
The cherry on top
Another interesting element that is more loosely linked to ODCS, but completes the puzzle, is the transport of the cacao (butter).
In our funding application to LUSH we mentioned the dream of transporting the merchandise carbon-free via sailing ship. It turns out that LUSH was already looking into this on their side and we found out about this shared intention through a common friend who happens to sail yachts!
For future developments we foresee a growing fleet of trade sailing ships that also transport students from different eco-community projects along the trade-wind routes for cultural, information and seed exchange- while shipping cargo. Furthermore there will be courses in permaculture and various social, spiritual and community building skills for the crew.