EARTH University in Costa Rica was founded on the premise that local leadership would be key to achieving peace and shared prosperity among rural communities struggling with poverty and limited futures. It set out to train and prepare future generations of values-driven leaders for rural areas. When one of its professors checked his Facebook feed and saw that his former student, Felipe Bermudez, was on his way to Indonesia, he was curious to find out more.
Felipe explained he was going there as part of the Mars Ambassador Program, much to the delight of his former tutor - another success story for the University.
Felipe began to learn about cocoa during his first year at EARTH University and he gained knowledge that still applies to his job today. Since his graduation 15 years ago, his career has been largely dedicated to cocoa, including research, commercial, buying cocoa beans for the United States, Europe, and Mexico, and working with cocoa farmers. He joined Mars three years ago because he believes we are making a meaningful difference in the cocoa sector, not just at Mars La Chola, Ecuador where he works as the Operations Manager, but also the longer lasting impact we’re making in science and through investments to help cocoa farmers thrive.
Last year, Felipe joined a group of Mars Associates from around the world, carefully chosen based on experience, to represent the different parts of the value chain so they could emphasize the impact that each part of the chain has on the other. During their five-day assignment, the Ambassadors had an opportunity to learn first-hand about the challenges of growing sustainable cocoa including:
- The importance of breeding strong healthy plantlets to ensure a good yield, advice which is common with other crops, but seems to be lacking when it comes to cocoa.
- How Mars teaches cocoa farmers to propagate new trees with the right genetic properties by grafting rootstocks.
- What the best practices are to get the biggest yields when managing crops in a sustainable way.
- Thanks to a fun activity planting Asian vegetables, the Ambassadors discovered how diversifying crops helps farmers to improve production and also their cash flow, so they have a more regular source of income.
The trip also included a field visit to meet farmers and traders to understand their challenges and learn how they are closely supported by technicians from the Mars Sustainable Program team, as well as a visit to the cocoa factory in Makassar where they could witness the impact of cocoa quality.
On the final day of their assignment, Felipe and the MAP team visited the Mars Cocoa Research Center to learn about the Mars breeding program, where the best trees are selected manually to breed new varieties of cocoa with the potential of higher yield and bean quality.
“It’s always amazing to see how much work is needed to get just one cocoa pod,” remarked Felipe.
During his trip, Felipe was impressed that Mars not only works with the cocoa traders, but it goes further in the value chain to connect with the farmers to support them, their families, and their communities.
“This was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” said Felipe, reflecting on the assignment. “MAP teaches you more than activities. It shows you the importance of each activity in the cocoa value chain. We learned so much on this trip and I’m keen to try out some new techniques in Ecuador.”
As well as getting to plant his own tree, and making some friends for life, Felipe was pleased to be able to show his former professor that the lessons he learned at University are still part of who he is today. The culture and vision of EARTH is very similar to that of Mars, as we too have a holistic approach, inspired by our Purpose and by the way we put farmers first through our Cocoa for Generations strategy.