I’m going to be head banging at the Reeperbahn Festival this week, and not just in the mosh pit. Thanks to Reeperbahn Festival, Hamburg Start Ups, Digital Media Women and the great ever-present sponsor of EY, I will be moderating two events at the festival.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of Independence Day in Papua New Guinea, my family’s home for 2 generations and the birth place of our social enterprise traditions. As an Australian citizen living sometimes in Germany, I always think my worlds are far apart. But they always come back together again in Papua New Guinea. You see in the late 19th century, the Germans laid claim to the north-eastern part of the island, and Britain managed the southern parts. As Australia peeked out from the Commonwealth apron of Aunty, it took a formal role in PNG from 1902, on behalf of the Brits and somehow the German and Australian (semi) cooperation continued until 1914 (well honestly, the history is a bit sketchy around World War One). Which were the years my grandpa Percy and his (German!) wife Gertrud went up to Mount Hagan and drew a line in the muddy soil with a well-weathered boot and called it Ilolo Estate on McDonalds Corner. So somehow, it was all sewn up before I was born, I was destined to bridge the German / Commonwealth gap, and for heck-sake I decided to throw Ecuador into the picture to bring in some salsa dancing (you didn’t expect me to march to family tradition without a little spice did you?). Many of you know, the time that my family left PNG was during the mid 1980s, as on September 16, 1975 Papua New Guinea became a complete republic. Free from everyone, my father commuted between Australia and PNG for 15 years to help hand over our plantations, and train various villages how to generate income from crops and businesses we had built over the last 70 years.
So, today in memory of a long tradition of cultures and families coming together, and over generations moving apart again I raise my little heart to the footsteps of the past and opportunities of the future. Trying to remember all the stories I have been told from grandparents and reading their notes in transport ledgers (written in pencil back in the day!). Remembering that we are coalitions, and then we are independent. Of our cultures, political alliances and families. Revelling when I see pictures of our old house in PNG pop up in twitter as tourists now gather there to talk about family plantations that only belong in history books; but in my life, are my blueprint to my future.
These days, the challenges of PNG are very real. As much as they are in the neoliberal economy that I see in Ecuador. Rapid population growth, road, air and sea ports bursting at the docks while schools, hospital and defence networks are growing, but well behind demand. I honestly do not know how to engage our PNG past, there are talks with coffee companies who are around where our old plantations were and my best link, my Daddy, is not here to help me figure it out. Before he passed, he wrote a dictionary. Translating the key native tongue, Motu, of the people he grew up with, into English. Maybe, that is the link. Maybe, I have the connecter sitting in my bookshelf. And maybe, next year, I will put that into more functional use.
For now, it’s the end of the dry season on cacao plantations that we are desperate to see some wonderful wet season springings from. It’s officially chocolate season in the northern hemisphere and I’ve got to get ready for a party this week.
Weeds weeds weeds. Everywhere I look there are weeds, not only on plantation, but a little bit in my heart. Some feelings of insecurity crept up into my heart over the last months as I just have such big visions for better chocolate industry and I have consulted some large companies with ways to improve their practice, even just getting better procurement standards on their chocolate and cacao-related ingredients. As the price of cacao keeps rising (due to increased demand from new chocolate demand economies like china and brazil) and reduced supply (farmers leaving plantation and climate change) we have an eternally wacky situation where buyers for chocolate ingredients are just dropping their standard during buying. From cookie manufacturer to baker to others I won’t mention but just walk along and kick the dust as I don’t believe that dropping standards for ingredients is the way to solve this problem.
It’s not the manufacturer fault, it is the big picture. For bakers and manufactures to survive they have three options – take our ingredients and increase their sale price, reduce their product size or reduce quality. I am sure you know of some brands which have done some of these in the last years. If the global market continues to increase by 2% every year, by 2020 we will need another million tonnes of cacao beans. This is the equivalent of another Ivory Coast, which is the largest cacao producing country and riddled with slave labour, child labour and fraud.
Efficiency and sustainability are the big topics. The more that larger manufacturers get us little guys in to advise, from the ‘ground’ about how to manage ingredient volumes, recipe influences and quality, there ARE creative ways to resolve this little gap while the bigger picture works on efficiently sustainable practices. We can’t fix the whole machine at once. It’s so overwhelming, I won’t tell you how many nights I toss in my bed thinking about the entire supply chain and places we can improve a few tweaks and get a better running system. The easiest place to start is to know what taste and flavour of cacao really is, and to re-engineer recipes from the base. Using less, better quality cacao is a classic quality-rich, resourceful way of influencing the tipping point. Demanding better means looking at the chocolate muffin we snarfed in that last meeting room, about looking at chocolate coatings on things, chocolate – flavoured products and looking for the familiar nuances you have learned (through our friendship!) about what cacao should taste and smell like. Demand better. Ask for source, not just of chocolate companies but those who keep us imprisoned in price wars, efficiency panics and delivery pressure.
Delivery pressure directly impacts farmers, like the guys I have the honour to work with, like my father, and his father. In Central America, severe drought has wiped out more than three million farmer families who face insolvency and an inability to harvest in the next 6 months. Teenagers are leaving the farm and going into industrialised jobs in cities to support their families, who under the impact of price pressure are fighting drought, seed safety (genetic manipulation of seeds causing land to rot etc) and unable to access financial assistance to see themselves through the next steps. Direct results of this are the signs of farms closing, malnutrition, crop hoarding, mistrust and kids either being shipped to schools elsewhere without their families, or not even getting close to an education. Strange choices by large financial institutions who back grain grants for crops that are mono-cultured and farmed, often not even food crops, in places they don’t belong because of incentives ensures that native seeds and fertility is robbed from the earth and any sense of balance will not be able to be restored. In both cacao and coffee we see disease and pest epidemics reminiscent of what my family saw in New Guinea in the 1970s (which shut down their coffee crop for some years).
Oh yeah, those grains and displaced crops are often involved in that big bakery craze of wheats and corns. Again, look beyond the packet. Beyond ‘organic’ and into what does this all taste like. How did it get here and who did it almost kill to occur.
It is when you just spend a moment, think about where and how you are consuming ‘food’ you will help us. It’s not just lunch. It is our livelihoods, passions, and families.
You do have the power. With the choice of where and how you shop. What and who you question. Thanks for considering.
Weeds. Would you believe, we have a weeds problem. There are many ways to think about weeds, and chemicals are not in my vernacular. I have many memories of my Dad telling me stories of when the first agri-chemicals came to Papua New Guinea in the 1950s-1960s and how tempted he was to work with them.
My dad was street smart, not formally educated as he grew up in the highlands jungle. He had no understanding of what this ‘wunder-substance’ from America and Singapore/Malaysia was, but he knew it was viscous. Agri-chemicals ruin everything up and downwind from the earth to the people who work on it. His stories ring in my ears every time I hear about the weed problem around the blessed cacao trees in Ecuador.
There are many WONDERFUL solutions, and one we are looking to extend is to plant beans around the base area. Beans are amazing because they are a natural sun protector for the soil (as you know, we have hotter temps so we need any natural cooling!) and don’t detract from the tree. What types of beans? I am a fan of the chocho (picture above the lupinus mutabilis), mostly because I like eating them, but also because they are pretty standard in around the regions we work and have a great relatively ok value to also harvest and on-sell (like we do with the physalis and amazon nut). The tides are turning, the moon is moving and it’s time to get into summer/wet season modus as the temps will heat up.
It’s important for to create trends and not to follow them. I love his opinion on this. Because that’s only how we can influence a better world. There is a delicate balance between looking back into history for advice, ideas and wisdom, and just blindly follow what trends have turned into behaviours and expectations. New paths, with wisdom from the past, that is what I would add to Mr Ducasse’s thoughts.
While reading his latest book, J’aime London (published by Hardie Grant), I found myself looking a bit behind the man and myth, and found that there are 3 key things that we both agree on. Look at our posts in the last two days for my first two points!
2. No geniuses have ever come from the kitchen. He’s refered to everyone from Michelin Stars to the man of stars himself, da Vinci and says that in the end, we are all looking towards bigger pictures. It’s not about gaining a star, but being an artisan doing a great job. That nature is the true genius who works to make us the materials to craft art, magic and fun.
While reading his latest book, J’aime London (published by Hardie Grant), I found myself looking a bit behind the man and myth, and found that there are 3 key things that we both agree on. Look at our post yesterday and watch out tomorrow for the last one!
1. The final ingredient that a chef adds to every dish is love.
I appreciate his musings about the role of a chef is about that exchange of giving and receiving, that the measure is pleasure. He’s been noted to say that every dish should convey emotion and that’s not a herb or a spice per say. I love it because it goes beyond the banal and into the purpose.
Our latest laptops have landed in Tanzania and I spoke with Svenja Gliem just before she left as she does her masters thesis about creativity and she is combining this with giving our laptops to a university who uses them to educate the students and farmers in their local area, about how to use laptops and computing software, especially for developing kids education and business development. This is in connection with World Unite.
While Svenja is there, she will also be teaching basic business skills to farmers about finance, business documentation and supporting the Village Community Banks (micro village financing).
Feet on the ground, smart and connected sharing and learning. Sharing skills, doing researching, collaborating and teaching. This is the sort of thing that fills my heart and we are delighted to be part of it and support.
Yes you can help us too!
1. donate a laptop to us (so we can sanitise and put education software on there and send to schools who have asked for help! We currently have requests from a Sri Lankan kindergarten, a homework centre in Ireland, a farm in Ecuador.)
2. tell us if you know of schools and great social enterprises who need our help. While we have a lot of projects lined up, you know I am always hungry for more.
3. Look here for some infos as Ralf and I describe how it works. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxR1Io39wLA
Find out more about our support of Labdoo when I talk about what Labdoo is on video, what has been achieved so far, and how you can help bring education to kids around the world with your old laptop.