Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bananas and Chocolate...Ecuadorian Style

One of the basic premises of Heifer International is that of "passing on the gift". In the case of livestock that is the simple matter of gifting the first offspring of your cow or chickens to someone else so that more can benefit. On this study trip we have seen the concept expanded to include the funding of co-ops and creation of "seed money" to start and expand farming practices to become better adapted for the world markets today.

Wednesday we travelled high into the cloud forest of Ecuador to visit a small town engaged in banana and cacao production. The local farm association met with us to present to us what they had done and their goals.

The farm that we visited was high on a hill, up a steep slippery muddy trail, that led to the family home and banana processing location. There were also a motley group of barking dogs... The farm contained both cacao and bananas inter grown with other... However the primary crop was bananas.

Interest rates, for farm expansion, are very high for farmers... And Heifer offered a bargain rate with 9% interest, a 9 month free period, and a 9 month repayment time. The farmer we visited had taken a loan to purchase chickens, to develop an irrigation system for banana production, and to receive training on production of organic bananas and how to grow "fair trade" fruit acceptable for the world market. He was also able to sell eggs locally, and to grow and sell baby chicks. The interest on the loan will be available to provide loans to others... And this is the form of passing on the gift to others.

We learned a great deal about the processing of bananas prior to foreign export. Unless the fruits in a certain level of unripeness... The fruit is not suitable for shipping. Once ripening has begun the fruit would be over ripe upon delivery to the U. S. or to Europe. Sample bananas from each bunch are examined to assess suitability. If free of flaws, the large stalk of bananas is cut into small groups of fruit, washed, dried, and packed into Inspection continues at points along the shipping sequence and inferior fruit will be rejected.

Cacao farming in the location is not yet highly developed. The Large pods grow from the trunk of the small trees. When they become red in color, the fruit is ripe and the seeds can be harvested. The large seeds are removed and spread on an open air cement surface to dry. This process requires constant stirring. Once dry the seeds can be slowly roasted to prepare the raw material for the making of chocolate. The women in this village are developing a cottage industry of making chocolate candy with a wonderful intense chocolate flavor. In addition they are developing a line of banana and various fruits slow cooked to make a product akin to apple butter... The favors are wonderful and quite unique.