Coca Farmers Poverty traps Colombian coca farmers in an unsustainable, unethical and sometimes dangerous occupation. During the country’s half-century-long civil war, rural communities were built up around the cultivation of coca to be used in the production of cocaine.

The Peace Deal

Militant guerrilla groups such as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were reliable buyers of coca crops as they used the cocaine trade to finance the war with the Colombian government. However, in 2016, a peace deal was agreed upon between the Colombian government and FARC that officially put an end to the civil war in Colombia. The peace agreement included a plan to wean rural communities off of the cultivation of coca by asking them to uproot their own coca plants and then providing them a monthly stipend as well as technical assistance in order to assist them in transitioning from coca to other crops. Due to organizational and financial oversights, however, many coca farmers have not received their full stipends nor have they received the technical assistance to change crops. Despite this, the Colombian government continues to carry out forced coca crop eradication efforts that leave these communities with no viable source of income.

Impoverished Farmers in Colombia

Even though the Colombian civil war is officially over, armed groups still vie for control of the cocaine trade, often employing violent, coercive methods to secure a steady supply of coca from impoverished farmers, putting coca farmers’ families and communities at risk due to the production of coca.

Often struggling to make ends meet, farmers rely on the steady income that coca cultivation provides them, despite their concerns about ethics and danger. With the implementation of the government’s coca replacement program falling flat, coca farmers were given little choice but to continue to cultivate coca crops or watch their families go hungry. Colombian law enforcement officials say 40% of forcefully eradicated coca crops are replanted. Voluntary replacement of coca crops with other crops is much more promising, with replanting rates near zero.

The Voluntary Replacement of Coca Crops

The voluntary replacement of coca crops with cacao allows farmers to provide themselves with a reliable income without having to endanger themselves or contribute to the narcotics industry. The National Federation of Cacao Farmers (Fedecacao) has been helping farmers to make this transition. With yields of up to 800kg per hectare, a cacao farmer can earn up to double the minimum wage of Colombia, making coca cultivation a less attractive alternative due to its illegality and the violence that the coca industry brings about. On top of this, the cacao industry in Colombia is growing with 177,000 hectares devoted to cacao­­, 25,000 of which were transitioned from coca cultivation. The increased production of cacao has resulted in Colombia becoming a cacao exporting country.

Joel Palacios Advocates for Cacao Transition

One particular example of a successful transition from coca cultivation to cacao is taking place in the department of Chocó in western Colombia where 60% of people live below the poverty line. Joel Palacios, a native of Chocó, has been devoted to advocating for the replacement of coca by cacao since 2011. For years, Palacios ran a chocolate training center for coca farmers who desire to grow cacao and turn it into chocolate. Palacios then launched Late Chocó, his own artisanal chocolate company based in Bogotá.

Helping Farmers Transition to Cacao

Stories like that of Palacios show the benefits of working with coca farmers to replace dangerous and illegal crops with more legal, profit-earning alternatives such as cacao. Whereas forcible, nonconsensual uprooting of coca produces inefficient results, the prospect of a steady, legal source of income incentivizes coca farmers to make the transition to cacao on their own.

Willy Carlsen
Photo: Flickr

Words like eco, organic, healthy, tasty, and sweet can be found in one single product: chocolate.

If the word “chocolate” is not sufficient enough, the other good part is that many of these organic chocolate products are also fair trade chocolate bars that are creating a social change and an environmental impact.

Besides being socially and environmentally good, there are some brands of chocolate who also donate to different humanitarian and environmental causes.

Here are six chocolate brands that are creating social change:

1. Madécasse

This is a social enterprise that makes chocolate products and vanilla in Madagascar. According to their website, Madécasse measures their success by the quality of the product and the social impact they make in Africa.

The enterprise started by empowering cocoa farmers in Madagascar, and by providing training and higher wages. The brand also creates an environmental impact by protecting around 70,000 cocoa trees, that are part of the habitat of over 65 species of flora and fauna, through cocoa farming.

Some of the chocolate bars that Madécasse sells are Salted Almond, Sea Salt & Nibs, Toasted Coconut, among others.

2. Alter Eco

According to the Alter Eco website, the brand is reliably delicious, socially fair, and environmentally responsible. They work directly with farmers that grow cacao, sugar, rice, and quinoa through fair trade and organic practices. Alter Eco assists these farmers by improving their food quality and their life quality.

Some of the areas that Alter Eco works on are fair trade relationships, development of programs, and the empowerment of women. The brand’s products have compostable packaging and are organically grown.

Despite of not being a brand that only sells cocoa products, Alter Eco counts with a variety of chocolates and truffles. Some of the chocolate bars and truffles available are Dark Brown Butter, Dark Quinoa, Dark Mint, Dark Velvet, Salted Caramel Truffles, Sea Salt Truffles, among others.

3. Divine Chocolate

Divine Chocolate is an entity co-owned by 85,000 farmers in Ghana. From Kuapa Kokoo, these farmers produce fair trade chocolate through the premium quality cocoa that Kuapa’s has.

The brand also works for women’s empowerment by providing opportunities to women in cocoa farming. Furthermore, Divine Chocolate improves access to information for cocoa farmers through funds that support the Kuapa’s radio program.

Some of the chocolate products that Divine Chocolate offers are 38 percent Milk Chocolate with Toffee and Sea Salt, Dark Chocolate with Hazelnut Truffle, Dark Chocolate with Whole Almonds, and 70 percent Dark Chocolate with Mango & Coconut.

4. Equal Exchange

Through fair trade, Equal Exchange counts with different natural food products offered to consumers. They work with small-scale farmers and their co-ops from different countries around the world, such as India, Ecuador, Peru, El Salvador, Uganda, Chile, among others.

Some of the products that the brand offers are coffee, organic tea, organic bananas, fair foods, and chocolate & cocoa. The brand sells organic chocolate bars, chocolate mints, candy bars, cocoa, and chocolate chips.

Some of the chocolate options available for purchase are Organic Very Dark Chocolate, Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate, Organic Mint Chocolate with Delicate Crunch, Organic Baking Cocoa, Organic Spicy Hot Cocoa, Organic Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, among others.

5. SHAMAN Organic Chocolates

This brand of chocolate was created in order to support the Huichol Indian population from central Mexico. SHAMAN Organic Chocolates’ goal is to create good and ethical chocolate while they help this Indian population from Mexico.

The brand’s chocolate is a 100 percent organic, GMO free, it is fair trade chocolate, and 100 percent of the profits are donated to charity that supports three Huichol villages in Mexico.

6. Endangered Species Chocolate

Endangered Species Chocolate promotes global change by donating 10 percent of their profit to their partner organizations that support different humanitarian and environmental causes.

The causes that the brand’s partners support are the conservation of species, habitat conservation, and humanitarian efforts.

The brand pays for premium ingredients for their chocolate in order to make sure that cocoa farmers are being supported and helped, and species are being protected.

The products that Endangered Species Chocolate offers are Natural Cocoa Spread, Natural Hazelnut with Cocoa Spread, Natural Almond with Cocoa Spread, 60 percent Dark Chocolate with Lemon Poppy Seed, 60 percent Dark Chocolate with Blackberry Sage, 60 percent Dark Chocolate with Cinnamon, Cayenne & Cherries, Dark Chocolate with 88 percent Cocoa, and Dark Chocolate.

With many brands offering fair trade organic chocolate products, helping the environment, people and donating to charity can be a way to support many humanitarian and environmental causes, and contribute to the social change that these chocolate brands are creating.

Diana Fernanda Leon

Sources: Madecasse 1, Madecasse 2, Madecasse 3, Alter Eco Foods 1, Alter Eco Foods 2, Alter Eco Foods 3, Alter Eco Foods 4, Alter Eco Foods 5, Divine Chocolate 1, Divine Chocolate 2, Endangered Species Chocolate, Shaman Organic Chocolates, Equal Exchange
Photo: Dubaruba

Clothes, food, technology. These are things everybody needs but also have strong associations to ethical problems. Shopping ethically is a growing concern for many people, yet the idea that ethical purchases are not affordable is pervasive. In addition, the constant bad news surrounding the practices of companies makes it seem impossible to be an ethical shopper. All of this leaves many of us with one question:

How can I shop ethically?

It is a question being asked a lot these days. And even though it might not seem easy, a little extra attention can go a long way, and it is not as expensive as it may seem. Here’s a few easy ways to shop ethically.

Do Your Research

In the fight to shop ethically, research is everything.

The biggest companies can afford to market themselves as ethical to shoppers. This allows them to manipulate concerned consumers into purchasing their products.

Luckily, there are ways to know what you’re buying before you buy it., for instance, ranks products in a variety of categories based on different metrics. Much of this information is available for free on the site, though some more in-depth information requires a subscription.

Doing research on products is a good way to be sure that what you’re buying is an ethical choice. In addition to researching, remaining vigilant in reading labels to spot companies notorious for ethical violations, such as Coca Cola and Nestle, is a key element in shopping ethically.

Thrift Shop

Goodwill currently operates over 2,500 stores in the United States. Savers operates over 270 stores. There are also countless independent thrift stores, providing good clothing for a low price. For consumers looking to ethically shop, thrift stores provide an affordable way to avoid incentivizing the abusive practices of the larger clothing industry.

Unethical labor practices is the biggest concern proponents of ethical consumerism have regarding the clothing industry. Though a variety of clothing sources exist that do not support this, many of these sources are not cost-effective. By purchasing clothing at a thrift shop, fashion-conscious activists can both avoid feeding into unethical labor chains and support their local communities.

Make it a Treat

Let’s get this out of the way: most ethical chocolates and coffees will be more expensive than their less ethical alternatives. Unfortunately, the exploitation of the developing world that is all too common within these industries is, more often than not, a cost-cutting measure. When cocoa farmers in the $16 billion-per-year chocolate industry receive between $30 and $100 per year, this is a measure by those in power to cut costs.

This does mean that, in general, most ethical chocolates and coffees will be a bit less friendly to your wallet. But by treating these items as occasional treats, you can save up for the ethical, and better, brands and indulge guilt free.

Shopping ethically is just as much about what we don’t buy as it is what we buy. When chocolate from Côte d’Ivoire, where CNN stated slavery within the chocolate industry is “normal,” is purchased, shoppers incentivize the highly unethical practice. Though more expensive and ethical options may not be purchased with the same regularity, purchasing them exclusively while buying chocolate less exclusively both supports ethical production of chocolates and rejects the lack of ethics within the chocolate industry.

Ethical consumerism is a increasing concern. This is good, but it is also easy to feel nihilistic when faced with a structure which, previously, hasn’t had to take things into account. But by being smart and patient, consumers can find easy and affordable ways to shop according to ethics.

– Andrew Michaels

Sources: Ethical Consumer, Time Green America, CNN Blogs
Photo: Natura Magazine

28,000 member co-op ECOOKIM has started to push for longer contracts than the yearly ones that are the industry norm. A representative of ECOOKIM has suggested three years as the minimum length of contracts going forward. This would allow growers to make longer term, concrete plans for their farms and to focus on the biggest challenge facing the chocolate industry today: the world is running out of chocolate.

The world is poised on the edge of the longest-running chocolate shortage in 50 years.

Last year, the world consumed approximately 70,000 more metric tons of cocoa than farmers produced. According to Bloomberg, the deficit is expected to last through 2018. Chocolate-makers are taking an even more dire view—they believe the cacao deficit could reach two million metric tons by 2030. The International Cacao Organization claims that in the past two years, only about four million tons of cacao have been produced.

Experts are pointing to many different factors as causes in this huge and growing shortfall. The first is that the market for chocolate is exploding. With the rapid expansion of the global middle class, more people than ever before can afford, and want to buy, chocolate. China in particular has seen a massive uptick in the consumption of chocolate, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down.

Not only are these millions of chocolate consumers demanding more than they ever have before, they are demanding it in more concentrated form. Between claims of healthy antioxidants and perceived prestige, a great deal of chocolate consumers prefer dark over milk chocolate. Milk chocolate can contain as little as 10 percent cacao, while dark chocolate usually contains 50 percent or more. This means the average bar of chocolate is taking more and more cacao to produce.

On top of this new and exploding demand, farmers are facing a biological threat. A fungal blight called frosty pod has, by one estimate, destroyed 30-40 percent of global cacao production.

Even Mother Nature is getting a hit in. The recent spate of droughts worldwide, largely attributed to climate change, has hit countries like Ghana and the Ivory Coast very hard. These two countries combined produce about 70 percent of the world’s cacao beans, and they are in terrible danger from the water scarcity plaguing their farms.

Plant breeders and genetic engineers are rising to the challenge to save the world’s tastiest treat. According to Bloomberg, Costa Rican farmers are developing several strains of cacao. These trees show promise in disease resistance and taste, which is a relief to connoisseurs concerned the cacao bean is about to go the way of the hothouse tomato, plentiful but tasteless.

Unless the world starts taking notice not only of chocolate, but of cacao farmers, we could be doomed to a much less delicious future. The growing demand and shrinking supply will make chocolate scarce and will drive prices up to extreme levels. As John Mason of the Ghana-based Nature Conservation Research Council, put it, “in 20 years, chocolate will be like caviar. It will become so rare and expensive that the average Joe just won’t be able to afford it.”

Marina Middleton

Sources: Confectionery News, Equal Exchange, International Business Times, Fox News, The Washington Post, The Week
Photos: Flickr