By Jessica Albright, Brewer Science, and Melissa Gelner, The Askinosie Foundation
While technology and bean-to-bar chocolate may seem worlds apart, a groundbreaking collaboration is centered on the opportunity to address emerging cocoa industry challenges. Dr. Terry Brewer’s passion for chocolate led him to an unexpected partnership with Shawn Askinosie, the visionary founder of Askinosie Chocolate. Both companies, headquartered in Missouri, work actively to leverage their businesses as a force for good. A casual lunch conversation sparked a meaningful collaboration to harness Brewer Science’s cutting-edge technology while advancing Askinosie Chocolate’s commitment to supporting best-in-class cocoa farming practices.
Understanding the Issue: The Global Challenge of Heavy Metals in Soil
Cocoa production is a vital global industry and the challenge of heavy metal contamination in cocoa and many other crops – such as avocados and kale – is a global concern. Heavy metals like lead and cadmium can naturally occur in soil and water sources, impacting cocoa plants. Askinosie Chocolate recognizes the significance of this issue and is taking a proactive approach to help cocoa farmer partners understand and address it, with a focus on producing a safe product and minimizing the impact on the livelihoods of farmers.
Rest assured, Askinosie Chocolate independently tests each product to verify the safety of all chocolate produced by the company. With this new collaboration, Brewer Science and Askinosie Chocolate are in the early stages of designing and testing new technology that will help arm the farmers with more information enabling better decision-making.
Empowering Cocoa Farmers for a Sustainable Future
A central aspect of this collaboration is ensuring the well-being of cocoa farmers while tackling contamination. By actively involving farmers in every step of the process, from data collection to the implementation of new practices, the partnership fosters a sense of ownership and shared understanding. The ultimate goal is to empower cocoa farmers to enhance their cocoa production methods, thus improving the quality of cocoa beans and safeguarding their income and economic stability.
In support of this mission, Brewer Science is developing a new, field-ready testing model for use by cocoa farmers. With this innovative tool, farmers will gain insights into the presence of heavy metals in their crops. Armed with this knowledge, they can monitor and adjust their farming practices.
The Ripple Effect of Positive Impact
Beyond their collaborative efforts to address a global challenge, Brewer Science and Askinosie Chocolate are deeply committed to their local community. This project was adopted, vetted, and launched by members of the Chocolate University (CU) Class of 2023. These local high school students spent several months in preparation by studying the cocoa industry issue, hypothesizing about the impact on cocoa farmers, and modeling business communication strategies. In Tanzania this July, several CU 2023 students (Julian Hom, Zac Murry, John Otto, and Morgan Piercy), joined Shawn Askinosie and Drury University professor, Dr. Albert Korir, to present the opportunity to farmers and begin the data collection process while cocoa farmers. This real-world international business experience is invaluable as students seek to understand the role of small businesses in global markets. Brewer Science has long supported the CU project through a student scholarship fund, but this year the partnership was even more meaningful. Together, Brewer and Askinosie demonstrate how innovation and compassion can lead to positive outcomes, both locally and globally.
While challenges persist, the joint effort exemplifies an inspiring commitment to best-in-class cocoa production. The collaboration between Brewer Science and Askinosie Chocolate is a testament to the power of partnership and innovation.