He joined CECAQ-11, the Fairtrade and organic certified co-operative in 2009, along with his parents. Like other farmers in his village Mendes de Silva, they could see clear benefits of being a member. With CECAQ-11 they could get paid an advance on their wet cocoa, and then a final payment when it was dry. The co-operative also helps with farming inputs, organic farming training, and loans. The loans really help with big expenditures like funerals. In addition their share of the Fairtrade premium could be invested in what they needed for their own community.
In 2016 Mario was voted President of the Mendes de Silva farmers’ association. “I was respected by my fellow farmers,” he explains, “and they could see that my behaviour was exemplary, that I looked after my farm well, and had an education.” The training given by CECAQ-11 means that Mario is now a lead farmer and is passing on that learning and expertise to his fellow farmers.
His association has used Fairtrade premium to purchase additional land, and to create the infrastructure in the village, including drying tables, and the surrounding fencing to help secure the drying cocoa.
Asked what his challenges are right now he says, “my farm is some distance from the village and the source of water, so getting water to my farm is a problem.”
“It’s also hard work fighting off the pests that affect cocoa. We only use approved products to spray our cocoa, but they are expensive, and it’s labour intensive.”
What does he like doing in his spare time? He smiles, like this is a joke, but admits he likes walking, and going down to the beach with his family on Sundays and holidays.
His message to chocolate lovers discovering the new São Tomé bars is “I’m proud some of the cocoa you’re tasting comes from my village – Mendes de Silva. I know the cocoa is well cared for, and very good!”