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Meet Paola, Our Cacao Supply Chain Manager

We couldn't do it without you, Paola!

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At Ombar we’re passionate about ethically sourcing the highest quality Ecuadorian cacao for our delicious chocolate bars. To ensure the quality of our cacao and the working conditions of our farmers, we have a team member based out in Ecuador: Paola, our Cacao Supply Chain Manager.

We think Paola is the bee’s knees, and we’d like to share with you what she does so you can get to know her a bit. We’ve asked her some questions about her passions and the work she does for Ombar…

Could you start by giving us an overview of your role? What is it that you do for Ombar?

I’m in charge of supplying Ombar with the best quality cacao beans from Ecuador. I explore and select areas in Ecuador where special types of cacao are grown. For example, in Esmeraldas province there are some very old cacao trees with genetics and flavours found nowhere else in the world, and we select a lot of this cacao for Ombar.

I’m also in charge of controlling the post-harvest processing of the cacao beans. The beans must be fermented and sun-dried in the right way at the right time; so I develop the infrastructure for the post-harvest process and work with cacao farming cooperatives to improve methods. Working with farmers to improve their processing techniques not only means that we get a better-quality cacao for Ombar, but it also means that farmers can negotiate a better price for their cacao!

These two elements which I manage, selecting the types of cacao and post-harvest processing, are super important as they determine the quality and ultimate flavour of the chocolate.

Paola at the post-harvest station

What’s your background and what got you interested in cacao?

I’m an Economist and Tropical Ecologist. I was born in Quito, found in the highlands of Ecuador; my mom is from Esmeraldas, coastal Ecuador, and my dad is from Quito.

I first became interested in cacao whilst working for an environmental conservation agency, where I discovered that managing cacao production could generate environmental and social benefits. For example, when farmers are paid a fair price for their cacao they’re incentivised to maintain native cacao tree types, protect other trees that provide the shade for the cacao to grow in and reforest areas where cacao trees can be grown.

Paola in the field

What’s an average workday look like for you?

I split my time between the field and the city. While working in the city, I make sure that the cacao beans arrive on time to the winnowing factory, that they have the desired humidity to be transformed into nibs and that all the export paperwork is ready. I’m also in charge of getting samples to laboratories for analysis.

When I’m in the field I visit both the farmers to check that they are following the correct harvesting protocols, and the different post-harvest stations to carry out quality control checks. I also work with the cooperatives on projects to improve the productivity of the cacao farms overall. And finally, I’m working with a group of farmers to reforest pastureland with native cacao trees and other native species.

What’s the most rewarding/best thing about your job?

There are so many rewarding things about my job! First, it makes me happy to see farmers’ livelihoods improve with the income they get from selling their cacao at fair trade prices.

I also love the fact that through our efforts we are helping to protect very old cacao tree types and a wide variety of fruit and wood species that make up the unique genetics of the Ecuadorian coastal forests. One of the projects we are working on now is to reforest some pastureland areas with cacao “arriba” and associative trees. These trees will last much longer than any of us, so I love that I’m making a positive environmental impact for future generations.

Finally, one of the most rewarding parts of my job is tasting the final product: Ombar chocolate! The people working in Ecuador put so much effort into producing the best quality cacao beans, it’s amazing to see all that effort result in a beautiful, unique-tasting chocolate, which I’m sure is one of the highest quality chocolates on the market!

Paola transporting cacao