Mario is a young man, born in 1993, who now looks after his parents’ 12-acre cocoa farm. He is married, and his wife is studying at college. Together, they have a young daughter. The farm produces on average 22 sacks of cocoa a year – not yet enough to live on, but their income is augmented from other crops like bananas and matabala which they sell locally.
He joined CECAQ-11 in 2009, along with his parents. Like other farmers in his village Mendes da 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 receive a final payment when it was dry. The co-operative also helps with farming inputs, organic farming training, and loans. In addition, their share of the Fairtrade premium could be invested in what they need for their own community.
In 2016, Mario was voted President of the Mendes da 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 I had an education.” The training given by CECAQ-11 means that Mario is now a lead farmer and passes on that learning and expertise to his fellow farmers.
His association has used Fairtrade premiums to purchase additional land and to create the infrastructure in the village. This includes 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 labor 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 that some of the cocoa you’re tasting comes from my village – Mendes da Silva. I know the cocoa is well cared for and very good!”