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A 3,600-km ride to eat (fair trade) chocolate

German cyclist Guido Kunze traveled across Colombia to showcase crop's potential for the economy

German athlete Guido Kunze during a trip around Colombia.
German athlete Guido Kunze during a trip around Colombia.

Guido Kunze looks relaxed in his fluorescent green cycling gear, despite the fact that he has just cycled from Seville and is about to head off to Valencia. From there, he rides to France, then Monaco and Switzerland until he reaches his home town of Mühlhausen, close to Erfurt in Germany.

It sounds like quite a trek but it is in fact a walk in the park compared to the 3,600 kilometers he covered between late March and early April in Colombia, riding from north to south with 40 kilograms of cocoa in tow.

The small producer on his farm in Colombia only gets a tiny wage

Guido Kunze

That trip had less to do with sport, however, and more to do with chocolate – or rather the cocoa bean, which Kunze refers to as a “peace crop.” By following the chocolate route, he aims to promote fair trade between local small farmers and Europe by cutting out the middlemen and making sure the cocoa goes directly from producer to consumer.

The extreme cyclist, who has set several world records in his career, took 13 days to pedal from Nilo to Popayán, Bogotá, Villa de Leyva, Chicamocha Canyon and Cartagena de Indias to visit cocoa farms, familiarize himself with the production process, and speak to those working in a sector that feeds 38,000 Colombian families.

The seeds of the expedition were sown when Kunze was in a German supermarket with his son. Both were surprised to see a bar of chocolate on sale for just 39 cents. “Thirty-nine cents? How is that possible?” Kunze says, speaking at the Procolombia headquarters in Madrid after being in Seville, where the name “cocoa” was first registered in 1585. “You couldn’t even buy the basic ingredients for that price.”

Guido Kunze during his Colombian trek.
Guido Kunze during his Colombian trek.

What began as a game between father and son soon turned into a solidarity venture. Kunze asked a chocolate-loving friend for help getting to the bottom of the matter and they left together for Colombia along with a camera crew who are making an educational documentary about the trip. “European consumers are increasingly aware of these issues and they have a right to know more about the production process,” says Kunze.

Colombia is the tenth-biggest producer of cocoa in the world, a crop considered pivotal in Colombia’s postwar era as a substitute for illicit alternatives, such as the coca plant. In fact, the country has the potential to take a central role in the world cocoa market, as demand has risen by 8% and supply is predicted to fall short by 2020.

The chocolate business generates a lot of money globally. However, the small producer on his farm in Colombia only gets a tiny wage, says the cyclist. “The farmers I’ve met on my trip don’t think about quality seals or marketing. They don’t know how the certification process works, nor can they pay for it. I wanted to give them a voice to show that cocoa is their livelihood and that it could be a means of attaining a better future.”

The route covered by Kunze.
The route covered by Kunze.

Aside from the distance, what was most challenging about Kunze’s Colombian adventure was the steepness of the inclines. But he says it was worth it, not just because of the stories he heard along the way but also because of the beauty of the landscape. “I got out from under the clouds at the end of the trip and spectacular views opened up before me. That was my reward. I hope my trip inspires others to cross Colombia. Contrary to what Europeans generally believe, it’s a safe place. I didn’t expect it to be,” he says.

While the locals may have surprised Kunze, the cyclist also made more than a few eyes pop as some had never seen a German before. “Particularly not looking like this,” he laughs, indicating his attire. “The first time we tried to send a sample of cocoa to Germany, people looked at us in amazement. They didn’t know they could do that through the post office.”

English version by Heather Galloway.

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