This is a cocoa pod.
And that's my hand holding it. Inside are the cocoa beans from which chocolate is made. Mars Inc. get's 40% off all their chocolate from Cote d'Ivoire. Think about that the next time you eat an M&M.
What was I doing in the cocoa region? I was visiting a Self-Help project. A school for the children of cocoa farmers in the village of Petit Yamoussoukro.
Because the US does not recognize Cote d'Ivoire's unelected government, there is no aid to Cote d'Ivoire. However, there are small humanitarian grants to Non-Government Organizations. I volunteered to be the observer for one of these Self Help projects. Petit Yamoussoukro got a small grant (about $10,000 US) four years ago to start a school. They have been wildly successful, expanding from first grade to first though fourth. From one building to four. From one teacher to four. We just gave them another grant to buy desks and "kits" (workbooks, notebooks, pencils, crayons, etc. for each student).
The cocoa farmers were taking their children into the fields with them. Not to work - this wasn't a case of child labor - but because what else were they going to do with them? So, the school was embraced by the community. In fact, the school is so successful that neighboring villages are sending their children. There are now 140 students.
Here's George - the Self-Help Coordinator - standing in one of the four classrooms which are traditional buildings made from wood, mud, and palm fronds.
What is very impressive is that the village cultivates a field of rice and uses the profits to support the school. They are doing well enough to build their new classroom out of concrete.
That's a pile of 12 desks that arrived at the village broken. They were damaged on the road. Below is a picture of the road. This is a good part of the road. It takes a little over an hour to get to Petit Yamoussoukro on dirt roads.
We stopped by the carpenter's shop in Oume and spoke to the carpenter. He promised to send a workman to the village the next week to fix the desks. We also stopped by to talk to the local government official about getting federal funds to help train the teachers. Luckily, George was there to do most of the talking. I just sat and looked representative of the American People.
I (the American People) received a lovely outfit. I got to keep this as it was an official gift from a national, state, or local government (i.e.; the Chief and the school board) and has a value under $335. I was pouring sweat.
And a rooster. I did not keep the rooster. I told George (our Self-Help Coordinator) and the Henri (the driver) that they could duke it out for the rooster. Mr. Rooster is now running around George's back yard.
The nice thing about cocoa trees, is they do not do well in clear-cut fields. They like shade, and other plants. So they are environmentally friendly. Cocoa is such a complex flavor that it has been impossible to reproduce it chemically. So, the production of cocoa is a big concern to US companies like Mars and Hershey. Mars, especially, is investing heavily in Cote d'Ivoire. They want to eradicate any hint of child labor, and make sure that the "witches broom" virus that has devastated Brazil's cocoa industry does not infect the West African trees.