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Bar of the Month (March 2023) Madagascar

Endemic lemurs, majestic baobabs, pristine rainforests, vast deserts, almost 5,000 km of coastline bordering the Indian Ocean: Madagascar is an island, home to an extraordinarily rich biodiversity.

But when we think of Madagascar, cacao may not be the first thing to come to mind. Personally, we mostly think of Vanilla – a superb spice with a rich history of its own. (We did some research on Vanilla in the past, for our artisan small batch ice cream shop. You can read about it here)

Åkesson Estate in the Sambirano Valley of Madagascar. Photo Copyright Åkesson

INDEED, only 0.1% of the world’s cacao production comes from the island of Madagascar. Small but mighty, it is the only African country that is classified as a fine cocoa producer according to The International Cocoa Organization.

Located in the Sambirano Valley, in northwestern part of Madagascar, the beans for our 70% Bar – the Bar of the Month for March 2023 - come from a private single estate plantation managed by Bertil Åkesson.

This estate spans over roughly 2000 hectares and offers some of the best quality cacao in all of Madagascar. The beans are fermented in a three-tier cascade box system and sun-dried on concrete patios or elevated drying beds.

Cacao fermentation in the tiered wooden boxes. Photo Copyright Åkesson

Fermented Beans drying in the sun. This is the second most important step after proper controlled fermentation. Photo Copyright Åkesson

On an estate plantation, cacao is planted, grown, harvested, fermented and dried on site. The estate controls all of the essential processes in one hand and exports directly to chocolate makers or cacao traders worldwide. This kind of overall management of all the steps, and annual consistency is an advantage in terms of quality. Not without reason, this private estate is well respected and renowned for their excellent quality. The beans and the chocolate made with them often win international awards year after year.

In Madagascar, the Åkesson estate is certified “Fair for Life” by IMO. The plantation offers a secure working and social environment, making food, shelter, health, security, liberty and spiritual activity a priority and also accessible in an otherwise remote part of the Island. The estate is run by solar energy; half of which gets redistributed to the village nearby where employees live. The estate also provides land to its employees so they can be self-sufficient and grow their own rice for their family. By contributing to the building of schools and the access to medical supplies, the Estate is also giving back to the community it works with and around.

Cacao production in many countries is still often grown in monocultures, requiring the removal of all surrounding trees. In the Sambirano Valley specifically, cacao grows in an agroforestry system. As a tropical understory crop, in an agroforestry system, cacao is intercropped with trees that produce shade, help trap humidity, and drop leaves which are nitrogen-fixing to soils. Intercropped perennials include albizia, madagascar almond, african tulip, glyricidia, as well as bananas, jack fruit, and citrus. Lower level crops in the systems can include vanilla, black and wild peppers. These integrated agroforestry systems also provide habitat for many of Madagascar’s unique wild animals and birds.

The agroforestry system grants higher productivity through increased soil fertility and reduced risk of pests, and diseases. It allows for truly organic farming methods without the use of pesticides. Agroecological restoration is achieved by carbon storage and nutrient cycling, making cacao cultivation in the agroforestry system beneficial for both environment and the people of Madagascar by providing additional sources of income to small holder farmers.

Products coming from Åkesson’s Madagascan estates (cocoa, peppercorns, coffee, essential oils) are certified organic by Ecocert for Europe & NOP for the USA. In 2017, Åkesson received HCP designation from the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund, who deemed these beans to have a Genetic makeup of 71% Criollo (traditionally regarded to be of the highest quality).

Promoting the production of fine flavor cacao that can achieve a premium price in international markets undoubtedly has the potential to create sustainable livelihoods for small holder farmers and provide local communities with job opportunities. This is why we want to do what we can to spread the news about truly craft chocolate making; the small movement of makers who are dedicated to ethics, sustainability and sourcing of fine quality cacao at higher prices.

This March we would like to offer a very special tasting in celebration of Madagascar being the bar of the month, we will host a blind tasting in our store with several bars by various makers using beans from this beautiful Island. The goal of this event is simply to enjoy and appreciate the diversity amongst Madagascan cacao and craft chocolate making. Details and tickets can be found here

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