Italian couple run high-quality cocoa production from Idukki in Kerala heading to artisan chocolate makers in Europe and the United States
Spending six months with cocoa farmers in the Idukki Hills in 2015 was just the start of Luca Beltrami’s journey. “They wonder how I am still here,” says the Italian, thinking back to his six-year stay in Udumbannoor, where he, together with his wife, Ellen, founded a small post-harvest cocoa unit, Go Ground. Beans & Spices Private Limited. TaerwÃ©.
Most importantly, he built a fraternity of cocoa farmers that now produces a consistent production of high quality cocoa that finds its way to chocolate makers in Europe and the United States.
Italian Luca Beltrami packing processed cocoa beans with a worker at his Go Ground Beans & Spices Pvt Ltd unit in Udumbannoor, Idukki District, Kerala State, South India
A mathematical engineer, Luca gained experience in a post-harvest cocoa unit in Uganda, before coming to India. Ellen, a business consultant, worked with him in Kerala to connect with farmers and collaborate with chocolate makers to understand the entire supply chain from bean to bar.
âThe relationship we build with people is important to us. We always find people ready to help us and we are there to help them. It’s a happy collaboration, âsays Luca, who is also a certified chocolate taster (level 1).
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Luca met Ellen in 2011, when they were both working as interns at IT companies in Hyderabad. âWe spent an entire year traveling India, from north to south and east to west. We fell in love with the country, âhe says, adding that after his visit to Uganda, he was, on behalf of the Riva Foundation, an Italian NGO that supports social projects, in search of good cocoa producing regions. quality.
âThe climatic conditions in the Idukki highlands ensure that cocoa can thrive here. That’s why we chose Kerala and set up our project here, âhe says.
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The current area under cocoa cultivation in India is estimated at around 22,600 ha. With a production of around 6,300 tonnes, Kerala accounts for 79% of the area and 71% of the cocoa production.
Luca started small, with his wife and three locals. âWe wanted to work with the farmers and give them the opportunity to produce high quality cocoa that would get a better price and find a bigger market,â he says, adding that he would initially visit each farmer on his bike to discover the individual challenges. After initial hesitation, he found them opening up. âOnce they realized I wanted a long, lifelong relationship with them. “
Luca explains that farmers before his arrival were not aware of the importance of the fermentation and drying processes. âHe is often underestimated. It took him two years of research and testing to obtain the desired results. âWe continue to adapt and improve,â explains Luca who, during the pandemic, returned to Ghent in Belgium, where he is from.
What makes it special?
âIdukki’s cocoa is unique,â ââhe says, explaining that it has its own flavor profile. GoGround started by training farmers in growing organic cocoa and also helped them with organic certification approved by Europe and the United States. This has helped farmers improve the quality of their products and bring them to a new emerging market for artisanal chocolate. âWe have raised a group of farmers, where we provide advice for planting and certification fees which include the administration required for it,â says Luca who has 88 farmers in this group. He liaises with 150 others from an organization called High Range Organic Producer Company Limited, which has nearly 500 farmers.
Luca also started supplying high quality cocoa plants with a âbuy-backâ policy, paying farmers a higher price than others. Although some organizations and farmers had already done âa good jobâ with cocoa, they weren’t getting a good price. Prior to his post-harvest interventions, the region’s cocoa was sold in bulk, often at low prices. Professional processing, fermentation and drying have opened up new markets for the products. Luca not only takes care of the farmers of cocoa cultivation, but also organizes the certification of organic food and extends micro-finance.
Seventy percent of the cocoa produced by GoGround is exported and now almost 20 tons and more is shipped to Europe while US markets buy almost 10 tons of the product.
Straight from the source
Brothers Ouseppachan Johnson and Kuriachan Johnson, right, recently launched Rakkaudella, an artisanal cocoa-based chocolate from Idukki
Brothers Kuriachan (24) and Ouseppachan Johnson (27) who launched their artisanal chocolate brand, Rakkaudella in July 2021 thank Luca for his mentorship. âHe taught us how to produce artisan chocolates and farmers how to grow high quality cocoa that earns them a good price,â explains Kuriachan explaining that the flavors inherent in Idukki’s cocoa beans are red berries, cherries and raisins.
He further explains that artisan chocolate only uses the solid component of the cocoa bean which also contains cocoa butter.
âArtisanal chocolate uses only solid, pure chocolate and is made from cane sugar without emulsifier,â explains Kuriachan who has launched 70% dark chocolate and flavored products such as ginger and coffee, with hazelnuts. , almonds and cashews.
Luca adds that chocolatiers make chocolates with different notes – woody, nutty, spicy, and different flavors such as toffee and caramel, depending on the harvest and the process they go through. âIt depends a lot on the recipe, the process and the texture. Nine women work in their fermentation and drying unit. “Our unit smells of cocoa day and night and it’s really nice.” Women turn the beans during fermentation and move them while they are drying. Finally, the beans are packaged in 30 kg bags. The team packages 50 to 80 tonnes of dry cocoa beans each year.
Binu from the Lucas Unit saved enough to build a well in his house. âShe no longer has to walk far to fetch water,â says Luca, proud to be able to help his colleagues. âOur is not only a collaboration but also a personal bond with the men and women of the plantation. Farmers and their families are part of the supply chain. We are also looking for ideas for improvement.