Vincent Mourou left a successful advertising career in San Francisco and took off to Vietnam, where he met Samuel Maruta, who was taking a break after a decade in banking. Together they started Marou, an artisan chocolate company based in Ho Chi Minh City.
Founded in 2011, Marou is involved in every step of the chocolate-making process, relying on cacao farmers who supply the beans. Mourou and Maruta travel throughout Vietnam, tasting the cacao bag by bag. They work closely with the farmers, whom they consider family.
“The farmer is our most important partner. We wouldn’t be here without them,” says Mourou. “A lot of the farmers we work with were trained by USAID, and the skills and training they received has enabled us to get great cacao,” he said, referring to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
HBim B’Krong, a cacao tree grower from Dak Lak, is among those who received USAID training. Now cacao is her main source of income. She gives back to her community by training fellow farmers on cacao techniques.
The program began in 2003 in Vietnam as a partnership among USAID, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the nonprofit ACDI/VOCA, local governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and private sector partners, including the World Cocoa Foundation and its member companies.
The program trained nearly 22,000 smallholder farmers in southern Vietnam and the Central Highlands in cacao production using sustainable cropping practices. It increased smallholder farmers’ incomes in Vietnam and improved their livelihoods by promoting cacao production and marketing. It also established cacao bean quality standards and provided monitoring and training to ensure farmers meet and maintain a level of cacao bean quality that is required by the global market.
“It’s not just about a commodity. It’s about exchange, and it’s about people coming together,” says Mourou. “And for me as a U.S. citizen, it’s about sharing this sense of democracy, this sense of free enterprise, this sense of generosity.”
A longer version of this article appears on USAID/Exposure.