Back from Bundibugyo: An origin report of Semuliki Forest

Back from Bundibugyo: An origin report of Semuliki Forest

In western Uganda, twenty kilometers from the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, lies Bundibugyo, a town known for cocoa production. The community sits at 800 meters, nestled into the foothills of the Rwenzori mountain range, which runs between Uganda, Rwanda, and the D.R.C. It’s a beautiful place, rain clouds moving down from the mountaintops throughout the day and the jungle teeming with life. It’s no wonder cacao trees like to grow here. 

Historically, cacao farming and production in Uganda has been dominated by conventional, bulk, commodity-grade cacao since it was introduced through colonial rule in 1901. Farmers dried their own cacao and sold it to local buyers. However, as the market grew for commodity cacao in West Africa, Ugandan cacao farmers could not compete with global commodity prices nor could they access the specialty cacao market.

Here I am with Josephine, one of 504 organic certified female farmers that sells to Latitude Trade Co.

Recognizing the quality of Ugandan cacao and the opportunity for a specialty market to be established, Latitude Trade Co. established a transparent buying network and a centralized fermentation and drying program in 2017. Just three years later, they are producing one of the 50 highest quality beans in the world while also providing greater economic opportunities to cacao farmers.



Latitude Trade Co. contracts with 1,002 organic certified farmers across the region, 504 of whom are female, and processes the cacao centrally in the village of Bumate, taking care to meticulously sort beans throughout fermentation and drying. 

 All of the farmers who sell to Latitude Trading Co. sign a contract at the beginning of the harvest season that stipulates she or he will maintain organic practices and not use any form of illegal child or adult labor. These contracts are kept on file for every farmer and every cash purchase is documented using the date and farmer name. Farmers keep their own copy of the contracts, as well as their receipts received through the season. 

This traceability extends into the quality control process. Max, the fermentation and quality manager, has been with LTC since the beginning, and harnesses the incredible care necessary to maintain high quality cacao. He records every delivery into the processing facility, tracks each fermentation batch through each box and each drying table, and records temperatures and humidity levels throughout. This data is stored in Google Drive for shared quality information across the team. When it is time to create a lot for export, the managing director, Jeff, and Max create blends of lots based on the fermentation rates and flavor profiles. This ensures uniformity throughout the shipment and also allows them to track each exported container to the exact farmers who grew the cacao. 


At present, Latitude has the ability to accept up to 10 MT of wet cacao in one buying day, to be processed for the specialty market. Each evening, wet cacao is loaded into a fermentation box with a capacity of 500 kilograms and drains overnight. In the morning, the cacao is turned for the first time and anaerobic fermentation begins. The cacao stays in the fermentation boxes for 6 days, on average (depending on the time of the season it might be 5.5 or 6.5 in total), before it is removed and laid on the drying decks. 

Often, it can be difficult to reach temperatures of over 50C when at altitude—in Guatemala, for example, we have to insulate the Cahabón fermentation house because the temperature drops at night due to the altitude (which is also 800 meters). LTC doesn’t seem to have this issue—they record temperatures 3 times per day, and by the 3rd or 4th day when the temperature spikes, they know fermentation is working. 


Latitude Trade Co. has expansive drying areas, knowing that this is a critical step in quality cacao production. They use mesh drying tables, 3-4 ft off the ground that are covered with clear plastic roofing. It’s quite wet and rainy during the harvest season, so it’s essential to have ample air flow in the covered drying area so beans can reach the ideal humidity of 7%. 

Max (back left) with the fermentation and drying team.

The team is very meticulous about sorting beans. They sort at multiple stages of drying to ensure  only the highest quality beans are exported. Because there are many large-volume buyers of dried cacao, LTC is able to sell this sorted-out lower grade cacao locally. This ensures that what is exported is a uniform and ultra premium product. 



We are grateful for the work Latitude Trade Co. does and feel aligned in the constant and meticulous practice of quality control. We know LTC is a team we can count on to keep the great cacao coming and keep up with growing demands without sacrificing quality. That is why Uncommon is partnering with Latitude Trade Co. to bring organic beans directly to the craft chocolate market in the United States and Canada. Keep an eye on this team because you will start seeing the beans pop up at, oh... maybe Cocoa of Excellence as one of the 50 best cacaos of 2019! 

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