The Jungle VIPs
Chococo Co-Founder, Andy Burnett, explains how chocolate is saving Sumatran orangutans
Since December 2018, Chococo has been proudly supporting the work of the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS). Fellow Dorset-based business, Lush, has been supporting SOS for many years. They kindly allowed us to adapt their orangutan soap mould to create a chocolate version, which we christened ‘Tuan’, meaning ‘Sir’ in Malay. For every chocolate Tuan sold (and Tuantoo, his vegan counterpart), we send £3.50 to SOS, who have recently confirmed that our contributions to them have now funded a total of 5,401 cocoa tree seedlings to be planted in Sumatra.
By supporting the work of SOS, we are helping them re-forest areas of rainforest destroyed by illegal palm oil plantations. While Chococo never has or will use palm oil in our chocolate, it is, sadly, present in a lot of industrially produced chocolate. There are only c14,000 Sumatran orangutans left in the wild, and we simply cannot stand by and watch the disastrous effects this intensive monoculture is having on both their habitat and the climate. Re-wilding by planting trees is a global challenge for which we are all responsible, and we want to do something positive to help.
As SOS say, “Orangutans spend their lives in the trees Deforestation is the greatest threat to their survival, so protecting and restoring their habitat is absolutely crucial. We are working with frontline partners to protect the last standing forests in Sumatra, and restore damaged ecosystems. The ecosystem restoration programme is operated by our partners, the Orangutan Information Centre (OIC), with a team of local staff and farmers. The restoration sites are located within the Leuser ecosystem, a protected area, and are repairing damage to the forest caused by illegal activities – primarily the clearing of forest for oil palm plantations. As well as restoring lost habitat and reinforcing national park boundaries, these projects engage local people in grassroots conservation action. Strong roots in the community are absolutely essential for this work to succeed, and the groups we work with have become the guardians of the forests, protecting the ecosystem from future threats.”
The damage that is done to the local ecosystem is captured in this quote from a local farmer who is now one of the guardians of the forest, “When the forest was replaced with oil palms, the water dried up for miles around. Since embarking on the restoration of the ecosystem, our rivers have returned and we can once again hear bird song. We are committed to protect Leuser from any further damage.” – Pak Baron, Protectors of Leuser.
We are helping the team at Bukit Mas Permaculture Centre (BPC) on the edge of Leuser National Park in the north of Sumatra to plant cocoa saplings. This 100-hectare, formerly an oil palm plantation, is now in the hands of conservationists and permaculture experts. The oil palm trees have been cut down, and work is well underway to turn this piece of land into something wonderful. Bukit Mas, which means ‘golden hill’, is being re-planted with indigenous tree saplings and important cash crops such as chillies, aubergines and other vegetables. In the nursery are more exotic crops such as patchouli, ylang-ylang and now cocoa, for local farmers taking part in OIC’s permaculture training programme.
Planting cocoa trees is just part of a wider project by SOS to work with local communities. As the health and prosperity of the people of Sumatra are linked to the fate of the forests, SOS aims to develop both conservation action plans and sustainable livelihoods. The planting of cocoa saplings provides a long term additional income stream for local farmers, and helps discourage the destruction of forests for the short-term profit of growing palm.
This is also a long term project for Chococo. It takes five years for cocoa trees to mature enough to produce cocoa pods. Only then can the pods be harvested for the beans inside, which, once fermented and dried, are processed and turned into chocolate. According to the OIC team in Sumatra, orangutans love the taste of freshly picked cocoa. They break open the pods to expose the sweet, white flesh surrounding each cocoa bean, which tastes like citrussy lychee – we can confirm it is indeed delicious. We look forward to continuing to build relationships with the SOS team, their partners and farmers, and to being able to buy cocoa beans from them to make officially orangutan-approved chocolate.
To learn more about SOS and to support their work by purchasing your very own chocolate Tuan, please visit the Chococo website at chococo.co.uk.