General Manager - Cacao Products
As I explained who I was and how I got here to someone that has now become a good friend she told me that people that enter the world of cacao normally jump into it head first. They get the ‘cacao bug’ as she put it: a passion, a drive that has no specific source but has a strong gravitational pull. I got the 'cacao bug' in February 2017. I’ll try and explain how I caught it.
Ever since I was a wide eyed middle schooler listening to my geography teacher talking about climate change, over-population and water and food scarcity I knew I wanted to do something to help fix these problems. Determined as I was, when the time came I decided to study civil engineering specialising in sustainable energy and green building design, which eventually led me to become a renewable energy analyst in London. Through this I hoped I could make an impact on the high consuming societies of the Global North. However I quickly felt uneasy: I wasn’t from the Global North and I felt that I could be doing more.
I am Venezuelan and although at times I will admit I tried hard to ignore the multitude of problems back home because they made me feel helpless, frustrated and sad, I always acknowledged that they felt more urgent to me than the projects I was working on in London. At times I was told by people I cared about to say that I was Spanish instead of Venezuelan to “avoid complications”. This hurt.
While my country’s reputation and situation kept getting worse, my parents - unlike me - held on to their roots even tighter and refused to leave. They were clinging to memories of the safe tropical paradise they grew up with. Although I had beautiful memories of back home too, I also remembered the protests, the nation-wide strikes, the endless “caserolazo” nights (the whole city banging spoons and pots together in protest) and the rising insecurity. As a young teenager, I remember not being able to go out freely and hearing about frequent muggings, kidnappings and gun wounds. I guess with time it is understandable how the bad memories outweighed the good ones: with a wave of polarising politics penetrating the country and separating us from within taking over – and this made me angry.
In recent years, however my anger evolved into worry. Every time I would go back – even after only a few months abroad – things would have changed noticeably. The queues kept growing alongside the zero’s at the end of prices. Whatsapp groups were created to tackle scarcity - if you found something in short supply, be it medicine or food, you would buy as much as you could and then trade with your friends and family who did the same. When my holiday break would end, I used to feel uncomfortable leaving my parents and family behind but I guess I thought the good weather, the Venezuelan sense of humour and the beach, would compensate for the situation. But not anymore.
A couple days before Christmas last year, a group of men broke into our home and stole almost everything we had. Luckily my parents weren’t there at the time and when I asked how they were they responded: “We’re shaken, but it was meant to happen. We are now no longer the exception - we are part of the statistics”. Enough was enough.
At this point, I could tell my parents were getting tired, demotivated and were losing hope – but as if by a miracle they stumbled upon the hacienda. They acquired it and have since spent most of their time and energy there. It has given them a second lease of life and a new hope for the future. They talk about all the hard-working people they have met, the engineers, agronomists and farmers from all over the country. A group of people that, like them, haven’t given up on Venezuela and see the potential: they are the remnants of what Venezuela used to be like. By crossing paths with this group, my parents rediscovered the country they lived in: travelling the length and breadth of Venezuela and relaying everything they saw, who they met - even tearing up remembering just how beautiful our country and its people is. My parents insisted that this was their calling, that it was a great way to help Venezuela and insisted that I come help them. But I was still sceptical.
I hadn’t seen my parents for 8 months when we met in Amsterdam to go to Chocoa – a cacao and chocolate conference and trade fair. I had missed them terribly and I had a feeling that after this meeting that something was bound to change. Not knowing much at all about the cacao industry, apart from the fact that Venezuela has a long connection with it and that my parents were growing it on the hacienda, I started talking to as many people possible to get a better idea of what it was all about. It took me less than an hour to realise the worth of what my parents had. For once it felt that I was in a room where people had a genuine interest in Latin America, in Venezuela – in what we had to offer and say. It felt odd at first but I quickly became proud again of where I was from and most importantly proud of my parents and of all the hard work they had put in to get to this stage so quickly. I was no longer sceptical and my parents were happy to say the least.
The concept of Primos de Origen was born that very same day: I was fully on board and promised my parents we would do this right. By making this business we would work as a united family once again but would also work towards helping our country. They have learnt first-hand the struggles cacao farmers go through and I am learning all about the consumer market – the part of the world I have called my home for the past decade. Unexpectedly alongside with my coffee loving fiancé Charles we have created a team motivated to work towards a better cacao world and a promising future for Venezuela.