A new landscape, economy and tourist route are taking shape in Brazil with cocoa as their central feature. And the IV International Chocolate Festival in Ilhéus, Bahia (June 18-July 2) is helping tell the latest and the upcoming chapters of that story.
Cocoa was a crop of immense importance to the Ilhéus region in Bahia in the 20th century. An Ilhéus area native, writer Jorge Amado (1912-2001) had the cocoa cycle as the backdrop to several of his novels, notably Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon. Gabriela was famously portrayed in a soap opera and in film by Sonia Braga and now by Juliana Paes in TV Globo's Gabriela remake, which premiered in Brazil on June 18).
Cocoa and the economy it sustained succumbed to the massive attack of a fungus - witches' broom - in the late 1980s and 1990s (learn more about it on this NPR special. The Chocolate Festival showcases the initiatives which have helped change that situation and their delicious results.
Sustainability has been key in the new phase of cocoa in Bahia. Organic, shade-grown coffee cultivated in reserves of Atlantic rainforest is on the rise.
According to Juvenal Maynart, superintendent of the Bahia branch of CEPLAC, the Executive Commission for the Cocoa Farming Plan, there's a goal to make Brazil self-sufficient in cocoa once again. Currently the cocoa industry is short by 40,000 tons and needs to import cocoa beans from Africa, for example, the superintendent said during a presentation at Rio+20 last week. Bahia is still the state with the largest cocoa production in Brazil.
This year, the International Chocolate Festival is commemorating the centennial of Jorge Amado's birth. Among the attractions are the Chocolate Fair, workshops, contests (including best cake and best dessert), a lounge featuring clothes made of chocolate, the Chococine (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of the movies scheduled); and shows (Vanessa da Matta, whose voice graces the festival's official website, is performing on June 30).
The festival is also an opportunity to discover the Cocoa Coast - which comprises Canavieiras, Ilhéus, Itabuna, Itacaré, Santa Luzia, Una and Uruçuca - and the Chocolate Route, launched by Bahiatursa, the state's official tourism company, during last year's event. The route, a perfect choice for the culinary travel aficionado, includes visits to cocoa producing farms and natural sanctuaries.
More About Jorge Amado:
Travelers can delve into Jorge Amado's literary universe by visiting Casa de Cultura Jorge Amado in Ilhéus, which occupies a house where he lived when young, and Fundação Casa de Jorge Amado in the historical Pelourinho district in Salvador.
The writer is going to attend the IV International Chocolate Festival on a press trip by invitation of Bahiatursa and the festival's organization.
Photo of cocoa grown at Fazenda Riachuelo in Ilhéus by João Ramos/Bahiatursa; photo of Fundação Casa de Jorge Amado by Patricia Ribeiro.