The 2016 cacao harvest is underway in Tanzania’s Kilombero Valley! The Kokoa Kamili team, lead by Brian LoBue, Simran Bindra, and their new operations manager, Paul Lukindo, is currently receiving, fermenting, and drying the beans harvested by the 2500 smallholder cocoa farmers that are working with Kokoa Kamili this year (that’s up from around 1700 in 2015).
The beans are extra special this year—they are certified organic! Cocoa farmers in the region traditionally farm organically, being too remote to have consistent access to chemical fertilizers and other inputs. However, to become officially certified, Kokoa Kamili and its partner farmers have gone through rigorous audits in a multi-year transition period. This February, they passed their 2015 audit and are now certified organic for both the US and the EU. Meridian is very proud to be bringing their first ever certified organic container to the US this fall.
During the offseason, Kokoa Kamili has been hard at work on infrastructure improvements at their Mbingu headquarters. In April they installed solar panels on the rooftop of their warehouse and offices. Now, instead of running a generator, they are able to tap into solar electricity for lights, fans, and computers.
They have also set up a weather station, which has begun tracking temperature, humidity, rainfall, and wind speed in the area. The hope is that this will provide greater insight into how weather patterns are changing over time and how they are affecting yield and quality of the harvest. In addition, Kokoa Kamili is using new equipment to measure humidity and temperature in the fermentary and around the drying tables to provide more accurate data on post-harvest processing. They are running trial microlots with temperature tracking devices embedded in the fermenting cocoa mass, allowing them to fine tune quality and provide custom ferments as needed.
This year, the rains arrived quite late, making the entire harvest slightly behind schedule. Collection of wet beans is now at 50% of what it was this time last year. It is too soon to tell how the changes in weather will affect overall yield for the year, but Brian, Simran, and Paul are designing new covered drying beds that will allow Kokoa Kamili to extend operations into the wet season while maintaining the high quality you've come to expect from their bright, fruity cocoa beans.
Meridian is looking forward to these first containers of the 21016 harvest to arrive in the fall. We'll be housing them on both the west and east coasts this year. We'll keep you posted as they land! Currently, we have 150 bags from the 2015 harvest available on the west coast. Contact us if you'd like some!