Benoît Nihant, the bean to bar chocolate maker from Belgium has invested in his first ever cacao plantations in Peru.
Eight years after launching his chocolate business in Awans, the Belgian chocolate maker has decided to invest in his own plantation which will allow him to push the boundaries of his chocolate creations.
His first plantation, which was always his dream, is in San Jose de Sisa, in the province of Saint Martin. He has decided to name the plantation Luis de Sisa for his son Louis.
Speaking to Food and Wine Gazette at the opening of his second store in Brussels before he headed to the plantation in Peru, Benoit said: “It was always my dream to invest in a plantation. The social aspect is also very important in business.”
The region was carefully selected. After going around the world to look for the best cacao plantations to buy his cacao, the Belgian chocolate maker was seduced by the Saint Martin region in Peru with the amazing scenery, the history and the hospitality of the inhabitants.
The place was inaccessible until 3 to 4 years ago because it was considered too dangerous. On the border with the Amazonian forest, drug traffickers cut off the inhabitants from the rest of the world. The Peruvian government has since started to help the inhabitants to replace the growth of coca leaves with cacao.
With the assistance of agricultural engineers from different countries, the chocolate maker wants to showcase what the region has to offer while at the same time ensuring a sustainable approach. He wants to show the growers that it is possible to obtain an interesting yield per hectare with an interesting variety of rare trees but whose beans provide a high quality taste. This should encourage local farmers to follow his method and approach instead of continuing with the development of the CCN51 cocoa bean , which is very productive but does not provide taste.
To achieve these objectives, Benoit is working on an ambitious reforestation programme. He wants to replant local tree species like Capironas, Caobas or Cedros to recreate the ecosystem and to promote the development of specific insects for the cocoa pollination.
The Belgian chocolate maker gives a lot of importance to the social aspect to the extent that when he buys beans directly from the farmers he who never negotiates the price so if the quantity is low, the price is higher. In an interview he had told Food and Wine Gazette this was done for two reasons, to ensure that farmers can pay the people that work for them well and to ensure that they have access to water and electricity in their homes which is very rare.” He is is now putting into practice what he has preached even if this project is a long term one which will only reap results in four to five years.
The main farm building (above) was built to house the Peruvian family that lives there. Drying facilities and fermentation facilities were built in April 2016 and are ready to receive the first beans from older plants that are present on the land. Benoit and his team planted bananas and guava trees since November 2015 . Their large leaves serve as shade for the baby cocoa species that were planted last month. In parallel, the sale of bananas on the local market has helped to support the families working on the plantation. Benoit excepts to use the first cocoa beans from his new plantation in 4 to 5 years.