At 30, Sabrina Mustopo is the CEO and co-founder of Kakoa Chocolate, a 100% Indonesian bean-to-bar chocolate brand which sources cocoa beans from smallholder farmers in Sumatra. Kakoa’s two-fold mission is to create a world-class chocolate from Indonesia that can compete in the global market while improving the livelihoods of Indonesian cocoa farmers. With a degree in international agricultural and rural development from Cornell University, she went on to work as consultant for McKinsey & Company focusing on agriculture and economic development. Her work took her to agricultural projects worldwide, including Tanzania, Ethiopia and Papua New Guinea.
What were you like growing up?
I was daddy’s little girl and a bit of a princess. I even had a pink princess dress. So when I told my family what I was going to do, they said why agriculture? there are bugs out there!” My father, who works in mining was most concerned. He knew it was not an easy industry and not a lot of women are involved in it.
So why agriculture?
Agriculture holds the answer to sustainable economic development. What affected me the most was the issue of hunger. So let’s think about how to solve hunger. Agriculture is the way to do it because you make more food. Economic development is linked to agricultural development which is linked to poverty.
You’re worked for McKinsey & Co and are always dressed to the nines unless you’re in the field. How did the farmers react to you?
In agriculture, I’m odd in any case. It was more “who is this foreign person coming into our village?” I felt like an outsider in many counts. I look different, my Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian language) is terrible and I’m the wrong skin colour. It’s like why is this weird Chinese-Indonesian girl who doesn’t speak bahasa here?
Why cocoa farmers specifically?
Being a farmer is a noble profession. Farmers have been long under-appreciated, do some of the hardest work and have the fewest opportunities available to them. Here, the cocoa farmers can’t get their financial needs met and there is a spread of diseases for cocoa trees in the country. So farmers are switching to growing rubber and palm oil.
How is Kakoa making a difference?
To counter these issues, Kakoa works with World Wildlife Fund and smallholder cocoa farmers in conservation areas such as the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Sumatra, where some of the last remaining Sumatran rhinos, tigers and elephants live. Since 2014, we’ve had over 60 farmers undergo an 8-week training program to improve the quality of their beans, learn farm management and how to maintain a healthy farming ecosystem. Our farmers are also paid over 3x the market price for their beans. We do this so we can influence farmer behaviour in a way no one else can. They should be given the opportunity to empower themselves.
What has this journey been like for you?
It reminds me of the time I was climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. I was behind the rest of the pack, slower than the rest. There’s still 7 more hours to go and every single second you’re in pain. But at no point in that journey did I want to stop. I told myself I’m going to get there but it kind of sucks right now. You just put one foot in front of the other and take the next step.
Why do you do what you do?
I believe the work we do is important on both the macro and personal level. There is a huge disconnect between people and food. Who are the people who make and grow your food? We want our consumers to get to know the farmers who grow their food, and know that they are making a real and substantial difference in their lives.
Learn more about Sabrina’s delicious chocolate here!