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)

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