On our sixth day here in Bali, we made our way to the East Bali Cashew Factory, located in a remote jungle about 2 hours drive away from Ubud. We were told it was a social enterprise that was allowing farmers and locals to make a living in a way that they would not have been able to otherwise.I was sceptical about the ‘social enterprise’ description this place was given.
Boy was I wrong!
The huge downpour of rain meant that we had to take the long way to get there, adding over an hour to an already long trip. We weaved our way through some breath-taking landscape. I was surprised at the way we could be in a place that, one minute, it felt like a super remote village, and the next we were in what seemed like a little city. Villages seemed to be growing out of and as part of the jungle around them. There really is something quite beautiful about the way a group of people can sprawl out in a space.
The closer we got to the factory, the worse the roads became. I use the word ‘roads’ rather loosely – think mud pits. I couldn’t imagine trucks actually making a trip between the factory and anywhere else; but they were there.
At the factory, we were given a brief introduction to the idea behind the factory and the way that it all managed to work. Essentially, a brilliant medico who travelled through Bali learned that the cashew farmers in east Bali were selling their crops for processing in Vietnam and losing a significant amount of potential profit. Given the other social issues, including isolation and poverty, he came up with the idea of making a factory for processing the cashews in the same province – and so East Bali Cashews was born.
Again, the group was amazed to learn that cashews grew on a little apple thingy. Weird, right?!
We learned about the steps in processing – from the sorting of cashews into four groups, to the removal of the shell, the heating and cooling processes (yeah, ‘raw’ and non-‘oven roasted’ cashews are in fact oven-roasted as part of the peeling process), the way that staff hand-peeled all the little skins on the cashews and sorted them into their final groups. It was really eye-opening because, let’s face it, how often do we think about the way our delicious cashews make their way to our tummies? After seeing the process of making cashews edible, I am now far more understanding of the $22/kg price tag.
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Given my cynical nature, I was keen to learn more about how this venture came to be and the impact it had on the surrounding villages. No matter what question I asked, I was met with a very sensible, ethical response.
The villages had been consulted, and the founder, Aaron, had asked for permission before doing anything. Having lived in the community, learned the language and understood the needs of the people, he relied on their knowledge of their needs to drive the design of his process. The local staff – mostly women – were paid almost double the minimum wage. The people who were promoted in the company mostly came from within the existing workforce. A childcare centre, where the children learned, ate three meals, and showered, was set up so that the women could continue to work. The garbage generated by the factory was incinerated and used to produce energy for the factory. Staff were able to purchase groceries from a discounted co-op, located on-site. Staff were given time off for the many religious ceremonies.The women were suddenly provided with a social where they could chat about their days and build friendships.
In one word? OMG.
What was even more interesting about this whole thing was that this was not a charity. It was not an organisation or entity that relied on government handouts or donations. It was a profitable business that was self-sustainable and capable of growing almost infinitely. At the end of the day, the business owners, workers, and surrounding community were all benefiting from this idea.
We even got to visit the little childcare centre within the grounds of the factory. It was amazing to me that a factory in a remote jungle in Bali could provide all these benefits to encourage women to work and earn a living, yet back home in Australia, we are incapable of providing sufficient support for mother who are returning to work. How do we really expect our societies to grow and flourish if 50% of the people are disadvantaged for doing something as crucial as baking a baby in their bodies and then raising it to be a productive member of society?
On our ride back home, all I could think about is how important it is that we all think about the direction and way in which we want to grow. There are infinite ways to do things; it’s really about deciding which path you think is going to work best and investing your time, energy and love. It’s also good to remember that if something doesn’t work, you can just stop and try something else. Easy!
Post Bali – I bought a whole bunch of cashews from the factory and I’m still making my way through them. I’m so sad that I don’t have anymore popcorn cashew magic to nibble on 😦
In December 2016, I went to Bali as part of a leadership tour run by Learning Options. On each day, I wrote a summary of my day, focusing on a major theme. To learning more about my tour, read here, or check out my adventures from Day 1 and 2, or Day 5.
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