May 25, 2011

Bittersweet: The cocoa industry

i am learning about the cocoa industry.  while it entices my digestive enzymes for chocolate, the industry in general increases my desire for justice and sustainability because it is dominated by powerful companies, moneymakers and landowners who have very little regard for the farmers who do all the hard work to harvest the cacao beans. 

In addition to the issues of justice for the farmers, it is important, also, to consider the ecological implications for the farmland.  There are challenges for growing cacao trees:
  • It only thrives in climates 20 degrees north and south of the equator;
  • It must be planted next to taller trees whose leaves will protect it from direct sun and high wind;
  • It is susceptible to pests and disease which routinely destroy one-third of the world’s yearly crop.
In addition, the trees are not very productive. Consider:
  • A tree must be five or six years old before it will bear fruit.
  • Each tree bears about 30 usable pods a year, which translates to roughly 1000 beans a year.
  • It takes 500 beans to make 1 pound of bittersweet chocolate – so in the best of circumstances, each tree produces beans for only 2 pounds of chocolate.
Most of us from America and Europe have grown up clueless about this industry.  We have been spoiled with an abundance of opportunities to eat chocolate.  This is true for most of the industries of the world -- we have to go searching to find some rare headline about the injustices and abuses against farmers in the world, or to discover the very difficult procedures and processes that raw materials experience by the hands of these farmers.  For the first time in my life, i am discovering what is involved before a bar of chocolate reaches the market.  What i am learning is that almost all of the millions of farmers (including children) who grow and prepare the cacao beans receive very poor wages for their labor in this lucrative industry.

Fair trade is a relatively new concept but is gradually making strides for a relatively small number of farmers.
Presently, cocoa sold with the Fair Trade label still captures a very low share of the cocoa market (0.1%).
by fair trade agreements there are now stories of individuals feeling empowered and economically secure. The important thing now is for me to change my habit of purchasing chocolate that isn't grown by fair trade.  I enjoy Snickers bars, Reeses peanut butter cups, Duncan Hines brownie mixes, and Nestle's semi-sweet chocolate chips!  I have steered away from the organic chocolate because it is expensive.  But now that i have knowledge, i can make no excuse to justify my purchase of these kinds of products.  I must abstain or admit that i am supporting the industry.  Every soul in this world is loved by God; we are one family.  If one suffers, I suffer.  Essentially there is no separation amongst us....

His Holiness Bahá'u'lláh has given instructions regarding every one of the questions confronting humanity. He has given teachings and instructions with regard to every one of the problems with which man struggles. Among them are (the teachings) concerning the question of economics that all the members of the body politic may enjoy through the working out of this solution the greatest happiness, welfare and comfort without any harm or injury attacking the general order of things. Thereby no difference or dissension will occur. No sedition or contention will take place. This solution is this:

First and foremost is the principle that to all the members of the body politic shall be given the greatest achievements of the world of humanity. Each one shall have the utmost welfare and well-being. To solve this problem we must begin with the farmer; there will we lay a foundation for system and order because the peasant class and the agricultural class exceed other classes in the importance of their service. In every village there must be established a general storehouse which will have a number of revenues.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 39)

dark chocolate, part of a balanced diet

There is a website, All Chocolate, that describes everything you want to know about chocolate -- its history, production, recipes AND health benefits..

I like how the article explains that chocolate comes from a plant that has nutrients, properties (like antioxidants), and chemicals that are beneficial to our bodies.  The key is to keep the cacao bean as close to its original form as possible. 

If one is fortunate enough to live where they are grown, it is easy to suck on a bean and delight in the natural and pleasant flavor it provides with all of those substances being absorbed into one's body.  Dash was able to do this recently when he visited a cacao tree farm in one of the rural regions of Ghana.  He said if you bite into the bean, though, it tastes bitter. 

Most of us in the world will never have the opportunity to suck on an unfermented cacao bean -- what's best for us is to eat dark chocolate and to choose a dark chocolate with the highest percentage of cacao bean in it as possible.  The higher the percentage of cacao bean the lower the corresponding percentage of sugar.

May 03, 2011

Accra woman carrying goods

Aside from the colorful car and roadside advertising,
 the woman carrying that load is full of strength, balance and grace!
While driving around with the real estate agent today, we had our first opportunity to see up close how the people, mostly ladies, carry big and heavy objects on their heads: we noticed that they wrap a cloth around into a ring and use it to anchor the goods, especially when they are held in a big bowl.  I just love how bulky & heavy loads are being carried to sell goods.  I'm in awe of it because i know it must be a difficult skill to acquire.  There is such beauty in the simple things of life...

May 02, 2011

First days in Ghana

We are now living in Accra, Ghana.  It is a city that reminds me a lot of Kingston, Jamaica where i have visited several times.  The trees and plants are abundant and full of color.  The people sell all kinds of goods everywhere, even along neighborhood streets off the main roads.  Buildings all over are in various stages of being developed or upgraded.  The colors of red, gold and green are painted on most wooden structures that are selling goods.  The smell of burning trash may be sensed in any location.  Reggae music is often heard out and about.  And finally, there is the all-embracing heat that makes someone like me, who usually moves about quickly, come to almost a full stop and really slow down like the locals.

After 2 days of living here and driving around, we've seen many new and interesting sites.  Upon leaving the airport i noticed a little eatery that had a big sketching of Malcolm X up on the wall.  I thought that was a cool sign of the people's awareness of a freedom fighter that isn't recognized as much as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the U.S.  What is most interesting to us is observing how each house that is of a certain economic class hires a guard to sit outside the property's wall to protect it against the threat of crime.  We have read and heard over and over again that crime is not an issue in this country.  Yet the perception is that having a guy sit outside will prevent crime from happening.  The guards are not part of a company; they don't wear a uniform or carry a weapon.  We've seen them lying down on benches and saw one getting his hair cut.  They work long shifts and have nothing to do except open the gate for cars of the residence.  I personally feel there is no need to have a guard (though i like the idea of not having to get out of the car to push open a big gate).  The argument is always that it provides a job for someone.  I just feel so bad for these guys sitting outside all day or night (depending on the shift) without anything else to do to occupy their minds or time.

 This photo depicts one of the many, many markets that adorn the city.  We are in search of some djembe drums!  We plan on buying at least 5 of them, just enough for each one of us to play, as well as to have for a rhythmic drumming circle that we'll inevitably experience in the months to come.  Apparently they are very inexpensive, quite a difference to how much one has to pay in South Africa.

This is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives.  We are wholeheartedly focused on community service through Baha'i-inspired activities.  We look forward to this never-ending life experience of learning and growing spiritually while serving the people of Ghana.