Freshly Cut cocoa beans

Upputhode means a stream of salty water. There is an old tale saying elephants used to come down to this place for they loved drinking the water here for its saltiness and hence came to the name Upputhodu for this small town in the high ranges of Idukki.

Upputhodu was one of our main collection points today. About seven to ten farmers bought their cocoas to this point which we decided and waited for us-these new buyers, who have for the first time acknowledge their efforts in keeping their farms organic.

Just like the last time, we started the day at 6 am traveling to Idukki, and headed out from the HDS (Highrange Development Society) with the empty crates loaded onto our pickup truck, exactly by 10 am.

There was a little drizzling all day long, just enough to match up with the several batches of fog gliding through the hills like little clouds coming down to touch these mountains.

The first farmer we went to was Mr. Augustine, who was just like most other farmers in Idukki, who has only a small piece of land wherein he tries and cultivates all that is possible, including pepper, nutmeg, cocoa and even a little rubber. He could only bring little less than 10 kilograms of cocoa today. In the same place,  he himself used to get three times that yield in peak seasons that what he had today.  ,

The local market price for cocoa was 55 today. We paid 65 per kg. But the problem these farmers faced even with this premium of an extra ten rupees per kg was that we only took the best beans. We couldn’t take a single bean if it was seen a little feverish,  sprouted, or with a cut mark. We only brought the best cocoa and that meant grading the cocoa at each farmer’s house and picking out every single bean we found not up to our marks.

This was a huge challenge for the farmers. Now with the monsoon started, the yield is only declining, that too with more feverish cocoas and the prices coming down every week. While we sorted out the good cocoa for us, what each farmer had left with them was all the feverish and second quality cocoa which alone they couldn’t take to any other buyer. So this time, the IOFPCL started collecting the second-grade cocoas too with a price without the extra premium but strictly taken care to collect in separately labeled crates. So now, we get our best quality first-grade cocoa, and the farmers can sell off all their cocoa, everyone’s happy!

So at every farmer’s home, we sort, weighs, calculate, pay, and load the beans on to the truck and hastily moves onto the next farm.

The travel from one farm to the other is another great thing about this procurement process. Some farms are close by, and some we will have to travel a little to get to. And these roads are magnificently beautiful that we only but feel like on a road trip, chasing behind our pickup truck from one farm to the next, one hill to another. It was almost drizzling throughout the day, but sometimes it just takes one turn to fund ourselves in heavy rain all of a sudden. And when we come around another hill, we ’ll again be under the warm sun peeking over the misty mountains.

At our pickup point at Upputhodu today, it just got a little longer as people started to get crowded around us. Here in Kerala, there’s nothing unusual in this.  Everyone knows everyone here in these small towns. It is just normal for local people to come sniffing around any outsiders and enquiring about everything starting with who and why are they here. For us but, this is a good thing. More people come to enquire of us, more people get to know of our project, more people get to sell their cocoa to us (strictly after the criteria checks), we get more quantities of quality beans, and again, everyone’s benefited.

Also, only these farmers whose farms were in too remote areas had to come down to these pickup points. We went and collected the produces directly from their homes for almost all other farmers.

We got to Mr. Mathew’s farm only by evening today. We traveled for almost half an hour just to get to his place. His house was like at the center of his plot and a bit away from the main road. There were dozens of huge nutmeg trees along the way to his front yard along with the hundreds of pepper plants to the left of that road. We could literally see a waterfall on our right side just beside the same road. This is the second week we collecting Mr. Mathew’s cocoas. He is a man in his seventies. He and his wife are alone here, and they themselves look after all these crops and their land. We only got about sixty kgs of cocoa from him this time, but he was more thankful to us for going all the way till there to collect his cocoas than the premium price at which we bought his cocoa.

There was another farmer who given us a small ball like sweet snack this evening after we collected his cocoas. He had only about 7 kgs to give us today. He had to quickly send us off and milk his cows after we left.  His two cows were standing by a small shed right next to the front yard. But in the little time that we were there, he shared with us his entire family story of how his family migrated to these hills from Kottayam three decades back, in search of cheaply available cultivatable land. For him too, we traveled about ten km just to get that cocoa he had kept ready for us.

Another farmer for whom we walked up almost a mile had but waited for us for so long, and finally took it to the local market and sold it off just an hour before we arrived at his home this evening.

After 8 hours and 70 kilometers of running around up and down these hills through all these farms, finally, we ended our day at the drying unit in Ramapuram. The heavy rain on our way down to the Ramapuram from Thodupuzha added on to the blinding fog in the forest which we had to travel through only made the journey all the more exciting this time. In the end, we weighed down and kept for fermenting a total of about 470 kg of wet beans.