In the Mbeya region of Tanzania, East Africa, nearly 25,000 families rely on cocoa beans to support themselves. Between 8,000 to 10,000 tons of cocoa beans are grown by smallholder farms across the region. While it is the most profitable crop, it is also the most difficult to grow. Lack of efficient agricultural skills, coupled with aging cocoa trees has left most of Mbeya’s farmers living below the line of extreme poverty.
In 2010, Belgian chocolatier Fons Maex launched the Cocoa for Schools project to help pull farmers and their families in the Kyela, Busokelo and Rungwe districts of Mbeya, Tanzania out of poverty. Hand in hand with members from each village, the project has managed to build and renovate almost 760 classrooms to date. Waterbridge has now partnered with Fons Maex to help make the Cocoa for Schools vision a reality. We sat down with Brian Hicks, Managing Director of Waterbridge, to find out all about this fantastic project.
How Cocoa for Schools Began
Brian tells us that the Cocoa for Schools project was born out of an inspired trip to Tanzania, “Fons Maex, the owner of Kim’s Chocolates, was looking to source organic cocoa beans from Tanzania. While he found excellent quality beans, he was also shocked by the levels of poverty there. From that moment, he decided that he wanted to make a difference and conceived for the project that the best way to help was to fund education in that region.”.
Fons Maex knew he wanted to help in some way, the question was, how? With the assistance of Biolands International Ltd, a subsidiary of Barry Callebaut and a producer and exporter of organic cocoa, he was able to narrow the scope to the most pressing issue with the most productive potential outcome. “One of the problems in Africa” Brian tells us “is that the scope of the problem is huge. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with what needs to be done there. The interesting thing about the Cocoa for Schools project is that it’s very specific in its goals and aims and I think that’s the strength of the project.”
There is a total of 140 primary schools in the Mbeya region. The Cocoa for Schools project aims to renovate each one of these schools and has set the specific and quantifiable target of renovating 2,000 classrooms. They have since expanded the project to bring clean water to schools who don’t have access to it and have begun distributing mini solar home systems to help eradicate the use of kerosene and allow students to complete homework even after the sun has gone down.
So, Why Schools?
Both Fons Maex and Waterbridge Managing Partner Brian Hicks grappled personally with poverty throughout their childhood. These two men passionately believe that education is the best way to end the cycle of poverty and they’re certainly not alone in that thinking. Brian Hicks tells us, “There’s a lot of statistics that point very clearly to, ‘The better the education, the better chance that children will have of improving their life’ and I think that’s really the core of the project, it’s about empowerment.”
How are Project Donations Used?
One of the projects’ shining qualities is its transparency. With 96.75% of every dollar donated going directly into the project, Cocoa for Schools is able to help villages build their schools as quickly and efficiently as possible. Brian Hicks notes this was one of the reasons he felt compelled to get involved in the project, “I have to confess I have traditionally been very cynical of the way that charity contributions have been spent in terms of what’s delivered at what I’d call the sharp end and how much is tied up in administration. 96.75% of every dollar that goes into this project is actually going into the projects themselves and not into administration. That’s an amazing delivery for the project.”
Funds donated to Cocoa for Schools are used primarily for things like building materials, brick making machines and training for the villagers. Cocoa for Schools teaches villagers to make and lay bricks using sustainable materials, giving the village ownership over their project. Project funds are driven by the villagers themselves and are channeled where they are needed most.
According to Brian Hicks “The project is seeing a vast difference in how villages respond. Some villages are more productive than others and build the classrooms faster, some are not so engaged in the project and the classrooms take longer to build. There is a desire to move as quickly as possible and resources will be directed to the most productive areas while encouraging the slower areas to catch up. What is tending to happen is the slow villages are seeing the faster villages progress and now they’re starting to come online and starting to deliver because they can see that the resource might go somewhere else. The villagers are starting to see all of the promises that were made being delivered and I think that’s been very important.”
How to Get Involved
Getting involved in the Cocoa for Schools project couldn’t be simpler, all you have to do is eat chocolate! Brian Hicks let us in on Waterbridge’s exciting new project, Organic Chocolate bars! He says, “At the tail end of this year in the autumn, we will be launching a range of single origin Tanzanian chocolate bars under the Waterbridge brand, made by Kim’s chocolates in Belgium. My promise is that I will contribute $0.25 from every bar sold back into this project. There will be eight chocolate bars so I think the first objective is to try every one of these chocolate bars and then start again! Every time you buy a bar, that’s $0.25; eight chocolate bars is $2 that will go into this project and you’ll have a most wonderful chocolate experience in terms of eating the best chocolate that you can buy.”
So, what is single origin chocolate, and why is it so special? Brian Hicks gives us a lesson in cocoa with a particularly delicious metaphor, “Most of the good wine is defined as the grapes coming from a certain vineyard. The great wine connoisseurs will know the great vineyards and how the year went in terms of the harvest and the climate and it’ll make better wine or worse wine depending on what the growing conditions are. The situation isn’t different in chocolate.”
When it comes to Waterbridge Organic, Brian explains, the same approach is taken, “In this particular project, our beans will come from the chocolate growing district of Kyela, Tanzania, therefore you will have a specific taste. Now, there’s no point having a specific taste unless it’s a very good taste! If we give you a specific bad taste, it would be counter productive.” Brian chuckles, “One of the reasons that Fons Maex was initially looking to Tanzania was their reputation of producing very, very good cocoa beans. The Kyela district produces excellent cocoa beans, we therefore can make an excellent chocolate bar.”
In Conclusion? Eat More Chocolate Canada!
Not only do the new Waterbridge Organic bars launched this September donate to the project, but our Waterbridge Belgian chocolate bars donate as well! Waterbridge pays a fee on every kilo of chocolate purchased from Kim’s Chocolates, which goes directly back into the project. Any Waterbridge product with the Cocoa for Schools logo directly or indirectly benefits the Cocoa for Schools project. So, eat up Canada!
Our new Waterbridge Organic bars are available NOW in Walmart, Giant Tiger, Sobey’s and Red Apple! You can also find them on our website! For updates about the project, make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter @waterbridgejoy and learn more about the project by exploring our website!