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International Seminar Series: Creating Inclusive Conversations about Chocolate Quality with Cacao Producers

Wednesday, October 25th 2017
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Event Description

Title of Presentation: Creating Inclusive Conversations about Chocolate Quality with Cacao Producers: An Avenue to Food Justice.

Speaker: Christina Liberati, Project Manager at Equal Exchange, with guests José David Contreras Monjarás and Zara Elizabeth Saavedra Gomez.

Presentation Overview: In 2010, Equal Exchange, together with TCHO Chocolate, embarked on a multi-year USAID project with the goal of strengthening the cooperatives in their supply chain and engaging with them in new and innovative ways. In order for small cacao farmers to succeed in international markets, their cooperatives must not only collect and process their product, but must also provide them with the knowledge and tools that help them to operate viable businesses, raise productivity levels, and add quality and value to those products.  When this project started, there was no standardized methodology for assessing cocoa bean quality. In a strategic alliance with cooperatives from Peru, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic, we developed on tools to assess chocolate quality that are accessible to buyers as well as producers–who historically have been excluded from these conversations and thus have been limited in their ability to demand fairer prices for the quality of their products. Representatives from Equal Exchange and from producer cooperatives in Latin America will present on their work and its impacts to date.

Speaker Bio: Cristina Liberati is the Grant Projects Manager at Equal Exchange, and also a member of the Chocolate team there. Her work primarily focuses on the administration of a five-year USAID Co-operative Development Program with cacao and coffee producers. This grant centers on issues related to quality, productivity and capitalization in Peru, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. Improvements in these three key areas help Equal Exchange’s partners to better serve their farmer-members, while also bolstering the supply chain. Her role also involves quite a bit of chocolate tasting, a difficult job but someone has to do it! She has a BA from American University and an MALD from The Fletcher School at Tufts University.

José David Contreras  Monjaras is the Quality and Innovation Manager for ACOPAGRO cacao farmer co-operative in Juanjuí, Perú. ACOPAGRO is the largest exporter of organic cacao beans in Peru, and a leading organization in the co-operative movement. He is also a national judge for the Peruvian Cacao Contest. Since 2010, he has served as coordinator for the USAID Co-operative Development Grant with Equal Exchange and TCHO and has run the Flavor Laboratory at ACOPAGRO and led multiple cacao quality trainings for farmers and staff throughout Peru and abroad.

Zara Elizabeth Saavedra Gomez is the Cacao Quality Specialist for Equal Exchange’s USAID CDP Project. She has over 15 years of experience in cacao value chains, working predominantly with cooperatives on planting, post harvest processing, quality control and chocolate making. She worked for the Peruvian Association of Small Cacao Growers (APP Cacao) for 6 years, focused on improving quality of Peruvian cacao, training cacao tasters, promoting flavor labs and promoting a national emphasis on cacao quality.  Saavedra Gomez has participated as a judge in the Peruvian national cacao quality contest since 2009. She has also judged cacao quality contests in El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.

Series Overview: The International Seminar Series offers the Illinois State campus and Bloomington-Normal communities weekly opportunities to learn about a wide range of international topics. Guest speakers are usually experts in their fields across a range of disciplines who cover a wide array of cultural, historical, political and social topics.

Series events have become one of the most popular internationally focused events on campus and continue to draw ever-growing crowds of students, faculty and community members. Audience members are given time at each event to raise questions to enable a two-way participation and learning.

International Seminar Series events are free and open to the public, and occur every Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. in the Bone Student Center. The fall 2017 series will focus on food justice and sustainability.

If you will need special accommodations, please contact the event organizer.


Office of International Studies and Programs
(309) 438-5276


Bone Student Center
200 N. University Street
Normal, IL
Prairie Room North & Center
(309) 438-4636