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Semuliki Forest, Uganda

tasting notes: blackberry jam, fudge

In western Uganda, twenty kilometers from the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, lies Bundibugyo, a town known for cocoa production. The community sits at 800 meters, nestled into the foothills of the Rwenzori mountain range, which runs between Uganda, Rwanda, and the D.R.C. It’s a beautiful place, rain clouds moving down from the mountaintops throughout the day and the jungle teeming with life. 

Historically, cacao farming and production in Uganda has been dominated by conventional, bulk, commodity-grade cacao since it was introduced through colonial rule in 1901. Farmers dried their own cacao and sold it to local buyers. However, as the market grew for commodity cacao in West Africa, Ugandan cacao farmers could not compete with global commodity prices nor could they access the specialty cacao market.

Latitude Trade Co. (LTC), the company that processes and exports this cacao, has organized 6 rural collection points for farmers to access, where they sell fresh cacao weekly into the network and receive cash at the point of sale. LTC's centralized fermentation facility and warehouse is located in the village of Bumate, at the base of the hills leading into the mountains. The site is designed to take advantage of all possible available sunshine while limiting runoff from heavy rainfall. Fermentation boxes have a 500kg capacity and total duration of fermentation varies from 5.5-6.5 days. Beans are sun-dried on portable raised racks for 6-7 days and blended to create consistent lots before export.

All of the farmers who sell to Latitude Trading Co. sign a contract at the beginning of the harvest season that stipulates she or he will maintain organic practices and not use any form of illegal child or adult labor. These contracts are kept on file for every farmer and every cash purchase is documented using the date and farmer name. Farmers keep their own copy of the contracts, as well as their receipts received through the season. 

This traceability extends into the quality control process. Max, the fermentation and quality manager, has been with LTC since the beginning, and harnesses the incredible care necessary to maintain high quality cacao. He records every delivery into the processing facility, tracks each fermentation batch through each box and each drying table, and records temperatures and humidity levels throughout. This data is stored in Google Drive for shared quality information across the team. When it is time to create a lot for export, the managing director, Jeff, and Max create blends of lots based on the fermentation rates and flavor profiles. This ensures uniformity throughout the shipment and also allows them to track each exported container to the exact farmers who grew the cacao.