On a visit to our partner in Madagascar

During the middle of May, Mirko Schneckenburger, our Head of Marketing & Communications, was granted the opportunity to travel to Madagascar as part of our regular visits to our local partners. During his time there, he visited Philippe Mena, our long-standing partner on site and the founder of the company Sambirano SA, alongside the cacao farmers who cultivate our quality cacao in its natural state. See below for where he shares his impressions of the trip.

A few facts about the origin Madagascar

Madagascar, an island which lies off the south-east coast of Africa, has a tropical climate and contains particularly rich flora and fauna. Thanks to the nutrient-rich soils in the northwest of the island, which is in the Ambanja region on the Sambirano River, the exceedingly fine cacao that grows here that is recognised to be some of the highest quality cacao in the world.

How would you describe the cooperation between Felchlin and the cacao farmers?

Undoubtedly, we are very dependent on Philippe Mena as a local partner, as we obviously cannot be in direct contact with each individual cacao farmer. This would entail a great challenge, if only in terms of the local language. Max Felchlin AG has been working together with Philippe Mena's Sambirano SA since 2005. Mr Mena is a native of Madagascar who has a Swiss wife and lives in both countries thereby ensuring an unequivocal partnership that goes far beyond the pure cacao business. On our trips to the origin, for example, he frequently organises spontaneous meetings with the cacao farmers, whereby we can engage in a discourse and exchange ideas with them and see what our commitment achieves. In addition to a good price paid for the superior quality cacao that is meticulously selected for Felchlin, we have also been able to implement umpteen projects with Philippe Mena that help the population in their everyday lives. The most recent example is the "Salama Mateza" (healthy Mateza) project.

Tell us a little more about what the «Salama Mateza» project is all about.

The «Salama Mateza» project was launched in 2020 by Max Felchlin AG, mTOMADY and Sambirano SA, with additional support from Elucid in 2022. This pioneering project gives smallholder farmers and their families in the Sambirano Valley region of Madagascar viable access to health insurance. Initially, this was largely financed by Felchlin, Felchlin customers and the Swiss Platform for Sustainable Cocoa. The aim was always to anchor in this project locally and then to be able to hand it over to the local populace after about six years. The added value augmented for the population and Sambirano SA, as well as the influx of farmers has been so successful that Sambirano SA has been able to finance itself after only two years and has now even expanded on the project. This year we will come together again and discuss possible follow-up projects, insomuch as another advantage of these direct relationships on the ground is that we can tackle projects that are plausible and make sense.

What else did you experience?

I observed the efforts Philippe Mena, his team and the cacao farmers make to ensure that the cacao can grow, be harvested, and processed under the best possible conditions. In addition to the social commitment, the protection of the environment and the sustainable cultivation of cacao are at the very centre of their endeavours. For example, Sambirano SA trains young agronomists who support the farmers in the cultivation and harvesting of cacao, whereby at this point I can perhaps mention another example of a project realised together with Felchlin.

Every year, seedlings are grown in a small tree nursery and in the first half of the year, these are the seedlings of the cacao tree. When these have been planted, the shade trees, which are very important for the cacao tree, are grown. This ensures that the fundamental conditions together with the requisite and important diversification are met which can enable the cacao trees to be maintained and to flourish in the long term.

What new insights did you gain from this trip?

For the first time I experienced firsthand and on site what "Fair Direct Cacao" and "Cacao Sélection Felchlin", Felchlin's own quality labels, effectively mean. It is essential, particularly in the area of communication to be able to pass on such topics authentically.

I have now experienced what a long-term relationship with a local partner and the associated direct purchase of quality cacao without intermediaries can achieve.

For Felchlin, these valued relationships are a great advantage in times of constantly increasing demands for transparency and sustainability along the entire value chain.

What was your personal highlight?

It is difficult to articulate all the different impressions and experiences into words. I am extremely grateful to both my employer and to Philippe Mena for allowing me to have this experience. This whole trip was a highlight in itself and it fills me with pride that I can work for Felchlin.

I was undoubtedly most touched by the answer of a farmer's wife to the question of what she would like to ultimately see in the future. After everything stayed quiet at first, the lady replied: "We are simply already very grateful for everything that we have already received."