Africa is no stranger to geographical diversity. Deserts, mountain ranges and lakes dot almost every surface of the continent, and the landscape of Tanzania, a country on Africa’s southeast border, is no exception. And though many might not think of the country as fertile farming ground, Tanzania’s Mbeya region hosts one of Africa’s finest cocoa bean cooperatives found on the banks of Lake Nyasa in the foothills of Livingstone mountains.
Since Shawn Askinosie’s inaugural visit in 2010, we’ve worked directly with farmers in Mbeya who grow and harvest Trinitario cocoa beans, which are typically used in fine, dark chocolate. We worked with a woman-led farmer group in Tenende, Tanzania from 2010–early 2014 and are now working with another farmer group in Mababu, Tanzania about 10 miles away, led by Mama Rahabu. After a growing season’s worth of care and diligence, this region produces beans with a flavor spectrum unique to the Kyela district. When roasted, the beans evoke subtle, fruity notes of strawberry and blueberry and when tempered, it creates the creamiest mouthfeel of all of our chocolates. These rare and unique beans are used to craft our 72% Tenende, Tanzania Dark Chocolate Bar, among other products. This smooth, fruity chocolate bar has won a 2011 Silver Award from the London Academy of Chocolate and has been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine.
As a benefit of Askinosie Chocolate’s direct trade relationship with the region, our adventures to Tanzania have also given local high school students the opportunity to meet and work with cocoa farmers and other high school students in the Kyela district through our experiential learning program for students, Chocolate University (CU). After months of classes and preparation, these Springfield, Missouri, students journey to the origin to learn about small business, entrepreneurship and cocoa, and witness Direct Trade firsthand. Students also engage in community development projects we’ve begun, many of which involve the local school, Mwaya Secondary School. One of the projects was the implementation of a Khan Academy video-learning program on laptops and projectors throughout the school, managed by a computer teacher, funded by a generous donation to CU. In past years, we’ve funded the first textbooks at the school and a deep water well for the village, which now provides potable water to the village’s 2,000 residents. Perhaps our biggest project is our Sustainable Lunch Program, on which we collaborate with the administrators and PTA at Mwaya. In this program, which we call A Product of Change, Askinosie Chocolate purchases Premium Kyela Rice, a delicious sweet rice harvested by the PTA at Mwaya, sells the Rice online, in our storefront and to select specialty food retailers across the country, then returns 100% of the profits to the PTA for them to source local food to provide lunches for each of the 1,100 students. We closely monitor the success of the program by analyzing key benchmarks. Since the program’s inception in 2012, more than 220,000 school lunches have been provided and malnourishment has significantly decreased. Additionally, attendance is consistently up and graduation rates have improved.
Learn more about our second Sustainable Lunch Program in the Philippines and A Product of Change.