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Rainforest Chocolate Tour basically means tropical Willy Wonka, right?

None of the companies want to break with the existing system of smallholder farming and take on the responsibility of developing their own large-scale plantations. Workers cut cocoa in the Ivory Coast village of Godilehiri.


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Most of the country's cocoa is grown by small farmers, on plots of 7 to 10 acres. To this end, the Ivory Coast government has promised to zone the protected forests, which cover more than 7, square miles, into three categories. Still-forested areas and all national parks will be fully protected and all inhabitants moved out. A middle category of forest will be gradually restored.

The changes are being enacted under a new forest code, which was approved by ministers earlier this month. Shaded agriculture involves growing cocoa trees that can prosper inside a forest canopy, a technique already favored in Cameroon, for instance. But there could be pressure instead to focus corporate investment on intensifying existing full-sun farming. A park ranger stands over illegally harvested cocoa, found during a routine patrol of the Cavally Classified Forest in Ivory Coast. Some researchers point to the often pitifully low yields of many small cocoa farms, which help keep farmers in extreme poverty.

One study found that the worst 25 percent of them had yields only a quarter of those of the best, with much of the difference often caused by pests and diseases. But outside the agroforestry zones, the plan is for mass expulsions to protect remaining forests. Industry leaders recognize that expelling cocoa farmers from protected forests without offering them alternative livelihoods is pointless. Most will simply return.

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But Higonnet and groups like Human Rights Watch have documented numerous examples of brutal government evictions of communities from the national parks of the Ivory Coast. Often, she says, people are thrown out of their homes without notice, explanation, or anywhere else to go. It is also behind schedule.

Rainforest Chocolate Tour

The corporate plans depend on the government producing maps of its protected areas and data on how much forest they contain, as well as who is living there. A December deadline for completing that passed without result. Likewise, no company action plans, due by the same date, have been published. Higonnet contends that delaying tactics are taking place because too many people are profiting from the present chaos. But she is cautiously backing the initiative, saying that public-private partnerships will make companies more accountable for how their product is grown.

But other conservation groups, including those in the Ivory Coast itself, are more cautious about embracing a corporate takeover.

If you decide to take the tour, which I highly recommend you do, there are a few things you should know. First of all, make sure you arrange for transportation. The tour was about 25 minutes away from our hotel in La Fortuna and it cost us a small fortune to get a van to take us there.

The mosquitos will be out and hungry, and the probability of rain is high. Fill up on the chocolate on the tour, but be skeptical of the chocolate they have for sale.

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As I mentioned, I am not a huge dark chocolate fan, but I loved the chocolate I had on the tour so much that I really want to take some home. The employees explained that the chocolate they had for sale all came from their cocoa pods, but was sent away to be processed. I bought several items. When I got home, I found that none of them tasted anything like I had expected. Although they were all labeled milk chocolate, they were all much too bitter for me to eat.

I noticed that Uber operates in San Jose. Did you use Uber when you were there?

If so, how was your experience? If not, how did you get around? Uber was not operating in the areas I was in, sadly. I paid a small fortune for transportation. When I went to see a toucan and sloth rescue it was about 1. Thanks for the followup. Do you wish you would have rented a car? To be honest, no, I just wish I had known it would be that expensive and perhaps tried to call around more or at least better prepare myself for the financial burden!

The drive from the airport to the first place I stayed I stayed in 2 different cities was 3 hours, and that would have been brutal. In most countries, I found that speaking the local language got me better prices, but that was not true in Costa Rica. Others forms of income are few and far between.

Once they have picked their cocoa beans, farmers cannot afford to wait weeks or even months until the cooperative has processed them and sold them on. And this is exactly the point where farmers have a great opportunity to obtain a much better price for their cocoa beans: cooperative processing produces high-quality cocoa mass and its sale via the cooperative gives farmers a stronger bargaining position when dealing with buyers. At the end of the first, two-day collection phase, a total of farmers from 11 communities have handed over 1, kilos of freshly-picked cocoa beans.

Two additional collection days result in a combined yield of more than 7, kilos from some farmers in total. The cocoa fermentation and drying equipment is working full out, and all involved are bursting with enthusiasm and pride.

Chocolate in the Rainforest

The cooperative is finally up and running. The task now at hand is to negotiate the best price they can get.

Rainforest Chocolate Tour - La Fortuna Costa Rica

And interested buyers are waiting. From the revenue received, further harvest-related purchases can be made before the money that was borrowed flows back into the fund.