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From tree to chocolate

By sharing knowledge and expertise PUM’s volunteers hope to contribute to the growth of local enterprises and thus development of the communities around them. In the Philippines a piece of neglected cocoa trees grew into a well-functioning chocolate factory. It employs 50 people directly and indirectly up to 1000 more. A great example of how the PUM principle can work out. Read the interview with owner Charita Puente Spina and daughter Charisse of the Filipino family business Puente Spina. And have a look at this short 3-minute video.

Cocoa expert Henk Nengerman visited the Filipino family business Puente Spina four times. What started with a piece of land full of neglected cocoa trees grew into a well-functioning chocolate factory. We visited the company and spoke to owner Charita Puente Spina and daughter Charisse. This is the story of their success and the results of 'Mr Henk' missions.

Charisse :"When Mr. Henk came the first time, we were four people. Now we work with nearly fifty people. "

Fifty people are working in the chocolate factory Malagos Chocolate. But many more people benefit from the advice of Henk Nengerman, PUM's chocolate expert who has helped to professionalize their family business Puente Spina.
In addition to the factory workers, farmers benefit who supply cocoa, the men who harvest and ferment the cocoa on their own plantation and the people who work in the adjacent resort. Less educated women from the community packet the chocolate. Young, highly educated women hold leading positions in the chocolate factory, headed by Charisse Puente Spina, daughter of founder Charita. She estimates up to 1000 people are now working (in)directly for Malagos Chocolate.

Charita :"At first I asked Mr. Henk how we could restore the neglected cacao trees."

Around the year 2000, Charita’s mother bought a resort, to grow local plants and build a garden where they could teach her compatriots knowledge about nature. A few years later they bought the land adjacent to the resort, which was full of neglected cacao trees. Charita had a talent for growing plants but no specific knowledge of cocoa. So she asked PUM for a consultant who could help her with the thirty year old cocoa trees.

Charita : "Mr. Henk told that you cannot produce good chocolate without good beans. So we started with fertilizing and pruning. "

They also protected the pods against borers by wrapping plastic sleeves around it. Henk Nengerman also taught them how to make the beans ferment in wooden crates, a technique that is essential to the final flavour of the chocolate. Malagos Chocolate built solar dryers and trained the farmers in the area how they could improve their income by planting cocoa trees and properly maintaining them. Puente Spina family bought the beans and sold them at home and abroad.

Charita : "The competition increased and so I decided to proceed with the processing of cocoa to increase the value."

There was competition. In order to cope, Charita decided in addition to the sale of cocoa beans also to start making chocolate. In 2012 expert Henk came back to teach the family how to roast the beans, something which must be done very precisely in order to get a good quality chocolate. Expensive German machines would be way above the young company’s  budget. Thus, the expert introduced them tp a factory in Peru, where he had helped farmers and where they had simple but good grills. It was the beginning of the current chocolate plant.

Charisse : "I do not think we can express in words what he has done for us."
Nine years after Henk’s first advice, mother and daughter are very clear about what that has meant for them. "We were fortunate that PUM sent Mr Henk. He was so helpful, even when we bombarded him with emails outside working hours. He helped us for days to informa us on something on which we were not familiar. He helped us with technical knowledge, recipes and the actual design of the plant. Moreover, he taught the people during follow-up missions how to operate the machines.”

Charita :"We hope that this industry brings our farmers a better income and they are happy with what they do."

The result of Henk's advice: a healthy family business that creates jobs and better income for farmers. Daughter Charissa is responsible for the chocolate factory. Son Rex regulates the marketing from the capital Manila and engineer Angel helps his mother with the purchase of beans so Charita can withdraw gradually. On the 24 hectare plantation farmers learn how to plant, prune and ferment. In the accompanying Garden Resort adults and children learn the value of plants, butterflies and birds.

Charisse : "We save up to invite Mr Henk!"
The job is not quite done yet. The chocolate is still wrapped by hand, resulting in a bottleneck at the end of the production line. Son Rex investigates at a fair in Italy potential packaging options. They like taking more advice of Henk Nengerman, but they have already reached the maximum number of authorized PUM missions. So the Puente Spina family is planning to invest in one final mission to perfect the manufacturing line with its help.
Text & video: Opmeer Reports