Tsiru Ala is a very special project run by a local family in the village of Bambu, Costa Rica. The family welcomes visitors to their farm to learn about the cultivation of cocoa and how it is transformed into artisanal chocolate. This is a new project for V Social, who supports Tsiru Ala’s efforts to have chocolate sold at a fair price and protect ancestral agriculture practices. The V Social team was so excited about working with Tsiru Ala that we invited them to take part in an “intercambio de experiencias”—an exchange of ideas and experiences so that we could help ensure the project is a success.
Fulvia Gonzalez started Tsiru Ala and traveled for 18 hours to the Osa Peninsula to meet with us in January. An Indigenous woman from the Bribri tribe, Fulvia named the project Tsiru Ala after a phrase in her mother tongue which means “the son of cocoa.” Her enthusiasm for our exchange of experiences meant traversing Costa Rica’s tallest mountain and crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Having worked with locally owned Costa Rican projects related to the production of cacao, V Social was eager to share what we’ve learned. We planned three days for Fulvia to visit other projects and swap stories, and of course to sample some of the sweet products!
Our first stop was Finca La Aurora, an agroforestry project that has been up and running for eight years and is in the process of attaining organic certification.
We toured the farm with Aurora’s founder Marita, and witnessed how they produced chocolate, coconut oil, wine, and vanilla. Here we discussed the importance of mixing timber and fruit trees, and Fulvia learned about the importance of improving the product presentation in how the chocolate was packed. She was also intrigued by the diversification of products on the farm, especially the vanilla.
Next up, we stopped in at the Rancho Raices, another family project, and learned that there are more than 100 species of cocoa, and many ways of preparing the chocolate, including milk chocolate, chocolate with fruit, and caramelized chocolate crisps.
What can we say, this visit was as delicious as it was informative! Our host, Mr. German, was very knowledgeable about the production of cocoa, and we had wonderful conversations about medicinal plants and their uses and tradition in Costa Rica. Fulvia saw ways of improving the experience of visitors to her farm, from incorporating tastings to putting benches along the route for them to rest.
Then we were off to Osa Cacao, a project that has received a lot of support from the government and the Crusa Foundation. Its expanded budget had allowed the project to improve its facilities, including its machinery. Here, our discussion was about the importance of branding and marketing. Fulvia was inspired to work on her logo and V Social offered to help once she had a design in mind.
Our last visit was to Finca Kobo, the project with the longest track record in the peninsula. Managed by local entrepreneur Alex Retana, the project has benefited by conserving the land and letting nature take its course. This visit was more technical, as we learned about the different species of plants and crop production. Fulvia learned about how to include technical information alongside aspects of tradition, and recognized the importance of being well-versed in all things cacao to answer the tough questions visitors might have.
Fulvia’s visit was not all about business, however. She has brought her son, Lukas, with her, and we wanted to give her a chance to explore the natural and cultural attractions of the Osa Peninusla. They were taken to Corcovado National Park and were able to walk in the forest and learn about the natural history from guides of a local company, Osa Wild. After, we shared a final meal in Los Higuerones, a local cooperative that donated our lodging.
V Social Foundation is a strong believer in supporting community based tourism projects led by women. As the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals says, when you invest in the health, rights, and well-being of girls and women, there is a ripple effect and everyone wins. We support three different women-led projects in Central America, and this is the second “exchange of experiences” we have coordinated, the first being a tourism development project for women from Mucuyche, Mexico.
These exchanges are important because they off real-time learning and allow women like Fulvia to see others doing similar work. She was able to share her interests and ideas with others involved in related efforts. It’s magical to watch people with common goals and dedication come together and see the ideas spark!
Fulvia returned home with a wealth of knowledge and new contacts to make the most of her project. We’re so excited to see how Tsiru Ala will embrace its rich and sweet future!