"Production potential is high but people don't know how to add value to their produce." - Hill Wild.
 
While the elders of the Tangkhul Naga tribe used to practice agriculture in a wide and inventive way, the past two decades have seen a huge reduction. Zeinorin Stephens together with her husband Leiyolan, have set out to change that. Both part of the Tangkhul Naga Tribe, they envisioned giving the world a taste of Ukhrul, but in a new, modern way. So they set up a farm and started producing...chocolate. 

Ukhrul in a chocolate 

Why chocolate since it has nothing in common with Manipur? Precisely that is why. They wanted to change that impression. Because why not give people a taste of Ukhrul in something everyone loves? Hence the two began making hand-crafted chocolates under the name of “Hill Wild” wrapped in magnetising packaging illustrating the beautiful mountain ranges around Ukhrul. Each of their chocolates is infused with ingredients local and characteristic to Ukhrul such as indigenous plants and fruits. These include Karathei, bright orange wild berries that are a bittersweet lottery because you never know which one you will get. They also make chocolate with fiery Manipuri ghost peppers, Theithukthe (wild, local apple) and perilla seeds to name a few. Because they have imported the cacao for chocolate making, they decided it was time to see if they could have ones of their own. Their hope is to make their chocolates bean-to-bar, so they have introduced cocoa trees to their farm recently. They also plan to revive interest in some fruits, plants and nuts that have disappeared from the region, like the local small sweet pineapples. 
 
While encouraging others into farming things for them, they had many fresh ideas of a bright new optimistic future for local agriculture. That paired with a great passion for their land, they saw their vision could be joined by others. What would it be like to create a community around the chocolate and spark this new hope? 

The inspired local collective

Zeinorin and Leiyolan have decided to set up an incredible collective where producers from the area can benefit from collaborating and having each others' backs. "It can be scary to do something new. This way we all know we are not alone."
 
That is how they ”, a challenging initiative. So far they have gathered 91 entrepreneurs under their umbrella.They are trying to encourage farmers, designers, cooks, craftsmen to create products rooted in the region. Because of their efforts, wine, tea, blankets
have all sprung up in small villages and their catalogue is still growing. They encourage them, package for them and sell for them.
 
All of this over chocolate. They are firm about the value of chocolate tourism potential aiming to make the Ukhrul area completely sustainable by 2030. Their work is a truly inspirational initiative. 
Local teamwork at its finest!

You can listen to Zeinorin talk in our Virtual Escapes video about "The taste of Ukhrul" and Made in Ukhrul initiative.