This week we are hearing from Bertil Akesson, Owner of Akesson’s, HCP Designee #15. Located in the Sambirano Valley, in north-west Madagascar, Bejofo Estate spreads over about 2000ha. Since 1920, it has produced world-famous aromatic cocoa, and today many of the top chefs and chocolate makers around the world use cocoa from this estate. Bertil has answered some questions in regards to how the Pandemic is impacting his estate and its surrounding region.
Q: What challenges has the pandemic caused in your operations?
A: The main issue is that some chocolate makers cancelled orders, delayed them or simply stopped paying for what was already delivered – generating cash flow issues. Banks have reduced the amount they can lend you and the interest rate there is 30%!!! So, banks are not an option…
Logistic is also an issue. We could not export a container to Japan, because the Malagasy administration for the paperwork was closed. The borders are closed and neither myself or my plantation Manager (he is on La Reunion Island) are able to go back there before September.
We also produce other crops growing between the cacao trees, and our annual production of desmonium (a plant used as a “tea” for animal’s digestion – love niche products) was blocked and now lost, because the Malagasy authorities declared that local plants will save the world from COVID-19 and they forbid all exportation of plants…
Q: How has the Pandemic affected the livelihood & economy in your area?
A: The situation in Madagascar is not so bad from the sanitary point of view, with 300 cases nationally and zero casualty. The plantation still runs normally. People in the villages have not changed anything to their daily life.
People in Madagascar (and specially in our area far away from the main city), are in wonder, because you have 150 people dying of Cholera every year, another 150 of the Plague, with thousands of people infected every year (and let us not even mention other diseases) and nothing really happens, but then comes COVID-19, with zero deaths, and everything in Madagascar stop.
We can expect a big increase of theft and violence, because the main resources in our area come from tourism and hotels and 100 percent of the people in that sector have lost their jobs. Cacao represents a smaller part of the income.
Q: Are you developing new opportunities to adapt to these new challenges?
A: In June – my situation will be that I have no debt and managed to pay everyone but we need to be super cautious about the future. I stopped every planned investment, because we simply do not know what will really be ordered after Summer. The worldwide impact will be such that I expect the consumption of chocolate will go down, but I hope I am wrong.
To learn more about Akesson’s and purchase chocolate made from their Heirloom designated Akesson’s Bejofo Estate you can visit their website here.
How can you help support Heirloom Designees around the world during these uncertain times? Click the following link to our Buy Heirloom Chocolate page on our website, where you can find a list of retailers selling chocolate made from Heirloom designated cacao beans.
With your purchase, you will enjoy extraordinary chocolate and support our Heirloom farmers.