Dominique Persoone opens chocolate factory in Congo

From: De Tijd, April 2nd 2019 - Photo: © Brent Stirton/Getty Images

Dominique Persoone and Dimitri Moreels – son of former Minister of Development Cooperation Reginald Moreels – build a chocolate factory Congo "We want poachers to get real jobs"

Three Belgians are about to open a chocolate factory near Virunga, Africa’s largest tropical rainforest reserve. This Unesco World Heritage site is run by a Belgian, Prince Emmanuel de Merode. He is one of three investors, along with the Belgian chocolatier Dominique Persoone and Dimitri Moreels, the owner of cocoa-exporting Copak. The three entrepreneurs do not want to disclose how much they put in the venture. ‘Actually, we are not sure yet,’ says Persoone. ‘We have just ordered the first machines in India.’

Europe and the US

The three want to process ‘better than expected’ locally-grown cocoa beans into chocolate bars. ‘But I already dream of chocolate ice cream and paste,’ adds Persoone. Expectations run high. ‘We want to sell our chocolate bars in Congo, but also in Europe, the United States and Australia.’

The entrepreneurs will produce vegan chocolate bars. ‘These are popular in the states. We only process local ingredients. Cane sugar and instead of milk we use coco oil.’ ‘I will not earn a dime in the initiative,’ says Persoone. Benefits are claimed to go to the local community. ‘Fifty percent of benefits go to wildlife and the rest to the people.’

Poachers

Wildlife in the Virunga Park is threatened by poachers, who do not refrain from using violence. A few years ago the prince was shot down. ‘A few weeks ago one of the rangers was shot dead.’ One striking detail though, Persoone somehow understands the poachers’ perspective. ‘The 4 million people living in the park area are suffering. There is nothing here. They are poaching to survive. They are paid much for a few kilos of ivory.’ ‘But our factory will provide people with prospects. In a first phase, we will employ some forty people, but hopefully more will follow.’ The chocolate factory is not an isolated initiative. In recent years, Prince de Merode built a soap factor and a power station. ‘Electricity is sold cheaply,’ says Persoone. ‘It encourages the people. They start initiatives themselves and become entrepreneurs.’