The Middlemen
Saveur|Fall 2019

Tanzanian cocoa growers have long been at the mercy of itinerant buyers paying low prices despite the steep costs of growing. But a well-meaning company has created a supply chain that’s better for the farmers—and makes for better chocolate.

Hilary Heuler ​

Sarah Maglass lives in a new red-brick house in Tanzania’s fertile Kilombero Valley, just south of Udzungwa National Park, nearly 40 miles from the nearest electricity or paved road. In her village, Mbingu, there is one dirt road and a tangled network of sandy footpaths that snake between rice paddies, mudwalled houses, and stands of leathery banana trees. Maglass is a farmer, like nearly everyone here. She cultivates patches of blushing pink pineapples and rows of corn, but it’s her 5-acre cocoa plantation that makes the real money.

Once every two weeks during the six-month harvest period between June and December, Maglass wends her way through her 1,500 trees, ducking the low-slung branches to hack firm, ovular pods from their trunks. Unlike the carefully controlled monocultures of other cocoa regions, the diversity of Tanzania’s trees means that the region produces fruits of different shapes, sizes, and textures, with colors ranging from dark brown to bright pink to acid green. The cocoa beans—also known as cacao—that will become chocolate, each roughly the size of a quarter, are packed inside the colorful shells, surrounded by a delicious creamy white pulp. It tastes intensely fruity, sweet, and tropical—nothing at all like chocolate as we know it.

The global chocolate industry is worth more than $100 billion, but most cocoa farmers around the world are poor. “Cocoa farmers are underpaid for the work they do,” says Greg D’Alesandre, a buyer for San Francisco’s Dandelion Chocolate, an uncompromising producer of single-origin bars, including from Tanzania. Global cocoa prices today are lower than they were 40 years ago, and many younger farmers are avoiding the crop altogether. But in Mbingu, a small cocoa-processing company called Kokoa Kamili shows a new model can work better for farmers and lead to better-tasting chocolate.

Founders Simran Bindra and Brian LoBue have identified a weak link in the local chocolate supply chain: Growers here have long been at the mercy of njemke, local middlemen, who pass through the farms at unpredictable intervals, use unregulated scales to weigh the beans, and pay as little as possible for the crop. Njemke won’t buy fresh, perishable cocoa, so farmers must ferment and dry their beans themselves. Big commodity traders pay njemke for quantity alone, so farmers are happy to sell them unripe or rotten beans along with the rest.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM SAVEURView All

Raising a Better Bird

Blue Apron founder Matt Wadiak has moved onto greener pastures, where happy chickens roam free.

2 mins read
Saveur
Fall 2020

One Good Bottle

Tamara Irish is a natural winemaker. Way natural.

2 mins read
Saveur
Fall 2020

My Not-So-Secret Garden

Good (vegetable-laden) fences make good neighbors in one tiny town.

4 mins read
Saveur
Fall 2020

Pralines: How They Cook 'Em in New Orleans

Pralines: How They Cook ’Em in New Orleans

4 mins read
Saveur
Winter 2019-20

My Father's French Onion Soup

Postwar Paris had a lifelong influence on James Edisto Mitchell—both as an artist and a cook BY Shane Mitchell

7 mins read
Saveur
Winter 2019-20

Our All-Time Best Recipes

If anyone should know if a recipe’s a keeper, it’s the person tasked with making sense of the original instructions—from the far reaches of Sri Lanka, say, or a famous chef who measures nothing. This might explain why many test kitchen staffers named favorites that their predecessors had tested and recommended. (Though a couple put forth recipes they developed themselves.) And while Saveur never shies away from the oddball authentic ingredient, the fare on the following pages is the stuff we cook at home, over and over again. Consider it global comfort food.

10+ mins read
Saveur
Winter 2019-20

Genever Is the Original Juniper Spirit

Don’t call it a comeback. Or gin

5 mins read
Saveur
Winter 2019-20

Gold Nothing

A sleepy city on the South China Sea ruled by the Portuguese until 1999, Macau has become a glitzy playground for China’s ultra wealthy. But in pockets between the casino resorts fueled by mainland money, traces of its culinary history remain.

10+ mins read
Saveur
Fall 2019

Mexico's Party Food

Fortified with hominy, chiles, and often myriad pig parts, pozole is a celebratory dish in Mexico and beyond.

4 mins read
Saveur
Fall 2019

The Middlemen

Tanzanian cocoa growers have long been at the mercy of itinerant buyers paying low prices despite the steep costs of growing. But a well-meaning company has created a supply chain that’s better for the farmers—and makes for better chocolate.

6 mins read
Saveur
Fall 2019
RELATED STORIES

A Sicilian Odyssey

A luxurious tour of Sicily is even more enticing at the wheel of the new Bentley GT Speed Convertible

7 mins read
Maxim
January - February 2022

For The Win – La-Tanya Greene

Maxim Cover Girl competition winner La-Tanya Greene is an educated beauty with a bright future

5 mins read
Maxim
January - February 2022

THE GOLDEN AGE of BOURBON

A new bourbon bible heralds the ascendance of America’s signature spirit

5 mins read
Maxim
January - February 2022

THE WORLD of SUPERYACHTS

Multimillion-dollar yachts have never been more in demand. Here are some of the world’s most beautiful

3 mins read
Maxim
January - February 2022

THE POWDER & THE GLORY

A roundup of some of the most extreme and exclusive skiing expeditions around the world

5 mins read
Maxim
January - February 2022

DELAGE ROARS BACK

Entrepreneur Laurent Tapie is raising the legendary marque from the grave

6 mins read
Maxim
January - February 2022

THE WORLD'S COOLEST WINERIES

These alluring properties around the globe sit at the intersection of architecture and viniculture

4 mins read
Maxim
January - February 2022

TITAN of TECH & INTELLIGENCE

How a visionary billionaire behind Google now envisions the future under artificial intelligence

10 mins read
Maxim
January - February 2022

WHEN SUPERMODELS RULED the WORLD

Claudia Schiffer curates an exhibition and authors a book on iconic 1990s fashion photography

4 mins read
Maxim
January - February 2022

LOST COASTLINES

An epic 750-mile journey up the coast of California in a manual-shift Porsche 911

7 mins read
Maxim
January - February 2022