By Kristen Reesor
DES MOINES, Iowa – In his hand, Charles Nicholson held a sample cup of dried mangoes from a small village in Indonesia.
“You wanna try?” Nicholson asked a visitor at the World Food Prize International Symposium.
The woman responded, “You betcha.”
The dried mangoes represent a new economic opportunity for smallholder farmers and low-income workers in Tiron village. Nicholson said some workers who would otherwise pull rocks out of a river, break them up and sell the result as gravel can now, alternatively, make money producing Java Bite.
Nicolson works with Resource Exchange International, a nonprofit that has helped villagers turn mangoes into Java Bite Dried Mango, a snack that reaches domestic and international markets.
Mango trees can grow to 100 feet, and much of the fruit would rot on the trees. When the product’s price drops during peak season, villagers find harvesting the mangoes too much trouble for the little payoff they would get selling them.
Those mangoes that used to go to waste can now be dried to produce packets of Java Bite Dried Mango, which increases people’s incomes. Nicholson said the average wage in Tiron village is $2 a day. Workers for the Java Bite brand get double that.
Nicholson said to create Java Bite Dried Mango snacks, the villagers had to adjust to practices that are not typical in their culture. He said they could not fathom why anyone would want to eat dried mangoes because that’s not something they consume.
“These are very insular societies, and it’s difficult for them to imagine people with different preferences than themselves,” Nicholson said.
He said they also had to learn to honor agreements and recognize the stakes of other parties. If the villagers say they will produce Java Bite products for five weeks, they cannot leave mid-committment, even to attend culturally important events such as weddings.
Nicholson said through the skills training provided by Resource Exchange International, “We can set them on a different economic trajectory that can provide more resources for their families.”
Java Bite snacks are available online. Revenues support Resource Exchange International’s worker wages and goal of “Building people to build a nation.”
This story is published in collaboration with the University of Missouri. Read more about their reporting project at the World Food Prize here.