The Amazon is under threat from illegal deforestation, but Minas Hill Cocoa has emerged to help the communities that live off the rainforest protect their natural resource.
Many Australians have heard about the rise of deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, however in a year full of bushfires, pandemics, and lockdowns, few will have truly considered what this means on a global scale.
According to the National Institute for Space Research of Brazil, about 1200 square kilometres of tree cover was cleared in the first four months of 2020, a 55 per cent increase from year-on-year. In April alone, deforestation grew 171 per cent compared to the year prior.
That was after an already devastating 2019 for the Amazon. Deforestation levels reached their highest point in more than a decade and the 2019 Amazon rainforest wildfires tore through not only Brazil, but Bolivia, Paraguay, and Peru.
While much of the logging, mining, and farming in the region is illegal, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro and Environment Minister Ricardo Salles have endorsed deforestation. The government has also cut funding to and fired senior officials from the groups meant to curtail these activities.
Ernesto Londoño, Brazil Bureau Chief of The New York Times, writes “the rise in deforestation is being driven by a prevailing sense among illegal loggers and miners that tearing down the rainforest carries minimal risk of punishment and yields significant payoff”. An outbreak of the coronavirus has exacerbated this, with the government’s and public’s attentions elsewhere.
The impact of this deforestation is wide reaching. The Amazon contains isolated indigenous communities and unique flora and fauna that are being put in danger. It is also the world’s largest carbon dioxide sink, and thus plays a pivotal role in mitigating climate change.
For almost a decade, Marcelo Brussi, Founder of green bean trader Minas Hill, has helped bridge the social gap between farmers in Brazil and coffee roasters in Australia. He saw the impact of this deforestation firsthand on his most recent trip to Brazil last year.
“The Amazon is almost the size of Australia, and it’s more important than any other forest in the world for climate regulation, so we should all be concerned about keeping it alive,” Marcelo says.
“I want my kids and grandkids to be able to experience the Amazon’s whole magnitude and grandeur.”
LIVING OFF THE LAND
Many communities and cooperatives harvest the natural produce of the Amazon to bring income to their communities. This includes pepper, acai, Brazilian nuts, and cocoa or cacao.
A friend who had established Ocra Cacau, the first cocoa factory in the Brazilian Amazon, invited Marcelo to visit one of these communities. Marcelo says the vast region of Terra do Meio in the state of Pará was rife with conflict.
“These cocoa communities are wedged between the protected national park and the deforestation. The illegal loggers, cattle farmers, and miners put pressure on conserving that part of the forest,” he says.
“These people need to be allowed to maintain their own traditions and culture, and Minas Hill wants to commercially contribute, empower, and strengthen this population to keep this forest alive and intact.”
Marcelo says the indigenous population and communities living off the Amazon cannot simply be relocated due to deforestation. The best way to support these people is to encourage them to maintain the rainforest long term.
“You can’t just give them money to solve the problem. It needs to be an ongoing support. You need to give them business, so they see that the forest intact is worth much more than the forest chopped off and sold as timber. Otherwise, they will end up selling the natural resources they have on the land,” he says.
Cacao requires shade to grow, like the canopy the Amazon provides. In fact, despite more than half of the world’s cocoa supply being grown in West Africa, the cocoa tree is native to the Amazon. Marcelo says due to the soil of that rainforest, this is the only cocoa in the world that can claim to be cadmium-free. “Countries like Japan, the United States, and some from the European Union, have already banned cocoa containing cadmium, a harmful chemical, responsible for multiple diseases,” he says.
It is also fermented and roasted in the region. This adds more value to the product and keeps jobs in the community, providing more incentive to preserve their land and resources.
Minas Hill has partnered with these communities and Ocra Cacau to launch Minas Hill Cocoa, bringing the product of these community’s hard work to Australia.
“I aim to raise awareness from the Australian coffee industry and wider community. If you want sustainable coffee, why not sustainable cocoa too?” Marcelo asks.
“When the pandemic started, people said this was the time to change some of our old behaviours. We are embracing a more local, conscious, and sustainable way to consume, purchase, and engage with goods from around the world and in Australia.”
MINAS HILL’S COMMITMENT
Sustainability has always been at the core of Minas Hill. Its four core coffee producing partners – Ismael Andrade, Gabriel Oliveira, Pedro Gabarra Teixeira, and Luis Sobrinho from Bela Epoca – have embraced biodiversity and conservation efforts on their own farms.
By law, Brazilian farms must conserve at least 20 per cent of their land. Gabriel preserves 40 per cent of his.
Pedro’s farm Fazenda Pinhal was even named the most sustainable farm in Brazil for 2019 by Globo Rural, a respected agricultural publication.
Minas Hill has also contributed to these producer’s social environmental campaigns at origin, including GIMA with Gabriel, Wings with Pedro, and providing funding and equipment for Ismael’s local hospital.
The green bean trader itself has reduced waste in the supply chain by encouraging its partners to use a biohybrid plastic lining in their hessian sacks when transporting coffee.
“It is important to me and my customers that we are bringing a more sustainable coffee, and I want to do exactly the same for cocoa,” Marcelo says.
FROM COFFEE TO COCOA
While the sustainable practices behind Minas Hill Cocoa are admirable, Marcelo says it would be tough to sell the product if the quality did not match that of its specialty coffee offering.
“Cocoa is from the Amazon region, so we’re sourcing it from its natural environment with the perfect ‘terroir’. Then, these guys know when and how to pick the cocoa at its ripest. Finally, the way they ferment and roast their cocoa produces one of the highest qualities you can find,” he says.
“I believe we can create a niche in sustainable and specialty cocoa. Like coffee, cocoa is more than a commodity, and I believe people are willing to pay for something unique, specialty, quality, sustainable, and with a great cause behind it.”
Minas Hill has a range of certified cocoa products it can offer to businesses, ranging from roasters and cafés to confectioners, chocolate makers, and bakeries. This includes Natural Cocoa Powder, Alkalised Powder, and Red Alkalised Powder. Each product is also offered as a single origin from one of the three regions: Alto Xingu, from deep forest; Amazon, from the eastern Amazon; and Rain Forest from Bahia state. Marcelo says Minas Hill’s Cocoa Liquor and Cocoa Butter from these regions are unique in the Australian market.
“These two products are truly special, and there isn’t an equivalent in quality available in the market,” Marcelo says. “You can ask for any of the products as Single-Origin, or from the High-Quality range. I’m sure our customers will be truly amazed by the quality.”
Marcelo says coffee and cocoa are interconnected, and not just because they’re both used for hot drinks. The two crops face many of the same social and environmental issues, setting the stage for the coffee industry to embrace more sustainable cocoa. Marcelo hopes to take several roasters to the Amazon in 2021 so they can see the difference this cocoa is making for themselves.
“Cocoa is a product that complements the offer from a coffee roaster, but it can also impress chocolatiers, bakers, and purveyors of fine hot chocolate. I think they and their customers will understand the product and want something more sustainable,” Marcelo says.
“Together we can make a better world. We are about to create new paradigms and concepts, shifting away from mass production to more sustainable purchasing behaviour, and consumers want to know where their goods come from. Our actions in Brazil impact Australia, and vice versa. We live on one planet and we need to look after it.”
For more information, visit www.minashill.com.au
This article appears in the August 2020 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.