Women's Issues In Guyana

Mabaruma women’s group producing organic cocoa sticks

Posted in Gender Equality by wiig on November 18, 2007
Tags: , , ,

Stabroek News – November 18, 2007

A women’s group in Mabaruma, Region One, is supplementing their income by producing organic cocoa sticks which have attracted an international clientele.

In 2005, the Blue Flame Women’s Group was formed by 15 wives of cocoa farmers in the Mabaruma Hosororo Organic Cocoa Growers Association, with the aim of utilizing the cocoa beans produced by their husbands.

The women seized the opportunity after the association stopped exporting to the United Kingdom. Exporting to the UK had been made possible following a visit in 2000 to Mabaruma by Prince Charles, who organized certification for the association from the UK based Soil Association Certification Ltd.

Chairman of Blue Flame Christine James told Stabroek News that the group had begun buying the beans from the association after the exports stopped as a consequence of a production shortfall. Stabroek News understands, however, that in addition to the shortfall in production, the financing of the certification was also a concern.

The group which now consists of 10 women, appreciates the income which the cocoa sticks contribute. According to James, “it helps, it helps a lot.”

While some women like James operate a poultry farm, others have small grocery shops or work with the government, like the two teachers in the group.

Initially the women began buying 50-100 pounds of dry cocoa beans which they manually processed. The dry beans are roasted on an open fire using firewood before they are shelled and ground using a hand mill.

Blue Flame now purchases a large portion of the beans produced by the association, which so far this year has totalled 800 pounds. There are two crops per year, namely in March-April and then in November, and beans are produced in between crops as well.

The Guyana Marine Turtle Conservation Society (GMTCS), through its North West Organics product line, is currently the women’s sole buyer, and according to James they “only have enough [beans] to supply them.”

In October, GMTCS exported 10,000 cocoa sticks to Germany and for this month there was an order of 1200 cocoa sticks for Canada as well as an order for the Caribbean Association of Indigenous Bankers which held its 34th annual general meeting in Guyana last week. The sticks were part of the gift package for the some 150 bankers who attended the meeting.

Apart from these orders, the sticks can be found in major city supermarkets like Fogarty’s and Nigel’s Supermarkets. At Nigel’s Supermarket, a box of the hand-rolled cocoa sticks is retailed for $1015, Value Added Tax (VAT) included.

To fill these orders the women work four to five hours per day – that is from 3 pm to 7 pm or 8 pm in the evening.

They work in the late afternoon hours James explained, because of the limited power supply during the day and also because the temperature is cooler. This makes it easier to form the cocoa sticks, since the cocoa beans become liquid after being ground. The government-supplied power is on from 6 pm, but sometimes James utilizes her generator to begin the work day.

“The hardest part is getting them into the stick,” explained James, referring to the ground cocoa beans. The liquid is allowed to cool and dry somewhat before being rolled into sticks, and even then the heat from the hands makes it difficult to form the sticks.

With the assistance of GMTCS, Blue Flame was able to acquire a donated cocoa mill, but James said the mill was “not as fast as we expected” since it took one or two hours to grind 10 pounds of beans. The group would like to have a mill that processes at least 10 pounds of beans in half an hour.

During a recent visit by the Guyana Office for Investment (Go-Invest) and from the Office of the Prime Minister, both entities expressed the desire to help the group, and James said, “I hope that they would help to improve the mill.”

She said that they were hoping to get their own power supply as well, in order to be able to do more work during the day and so they could use a fan to better regulate the temperature.

James admits that it would be better to work in the day since this would give herself and the other women more time in the evening with their families.

According to the chairman, the working hours are a bit difficult for her since during the evening she spends time with her family and assists her children with their homework.

The same applied she said, to the other women as well, since they would be able to leave earlier to travel home.

Cocoa plantation

The cocoa plantation that the group gets the beans from is some 76 acres in extent of which 20 acres is filled with old or mature trees and the remaining 46 acres with young trees. So far this year the plantation has produced 2000 pounds of dry beans and some 2 tonnes of wet beans. However, to export to the UK, the association has to produce 10-25 tonnes of cocoa beans.

The association’s Chairman, Edward James, the husband of Christine, noted that once the young cocoa trees began producing to capacity by 2011, they would be able to meet the target of at least 10 tonnes per year. The association has 45 members and Edward said that it would still be able to supply the women’s group after exports resumed. Apart from Blue Flame the association also sells the dry beans to middlemen for $120 per pound.


To make a hot cup of cocoa using the sticks, one must first boil the water with the cocoa stick until it dissolves, and when it is cool, add milk or sugar then strain the liquid to remove any sediment.

One Response to 'Mabaruma women’s group producing organic cocoa sticks'

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  1. Venus Adams said,

    where can I buy your cocoa sticks in canada?

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