Laticia C. (from the Produce Department
at the Kootenay Co-op)
“Why are organic farming practices and fair trade important to you, and why are they important to the cocoa industry?”
Here is one of the mysteries of our world: farming is among the least well-rewarded, most precarious of occupations. Cultivating food, the most fundamental process for the maintenance of our daily lives, routinely happens under conditions that degrade ecosystems and devalue human and other animal life.
Organic farming practices and fair trade are important to me because they help to redress this situation. They give growers financial authority over their own lives. They support farming communities and help to make farming a viable choice for future generations. Organic farming practices and fair trade are also political movements, and they involve and depend on people at the grassroots – farmers themselves – advocating for their interests, working together to improve the quality of their lives, and creating national and international policy.
Cocoa likes to grow in the tropics. Over 10,000,000 hectares of earth are devoted to cocoa production worldwide, and according to the Fair Trade Foundation, approximately 6 million people around the world grow cocoa. Although industrial plantations exist, cocoa is primarily grown on small family holdings. Production is concentrated in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Indonesia, with the greatest volume (about 40% of the world’s supply) coming from Cote d’Ivoire. Theobroma cacao thrives in intact ecosystems where overstory vegetation shields the delicate cocoa trees from sunlight and wind. Cocoa is a perennial, and it takes several years for the plant to mature and produce a harvestable crop. Growing cocoa requires the financial resources to plan for the future, something that individual farmers labouring under conventional conditions are often denied. Organic practices recognize that farming does not occur in a vacuum, and that producing a crop affects the soil, water, and surrounding vegetation. At the root, growing organically protects the health of ecosystems by supporting ecological diversity, resilience, and long-term relationships with the land.
Cocoa has been a global commodity since the early 1500s, when the Spanish met the Aztec and our modern era of colonialism began. As with other global commodities – opium, bananas, wheat, corn, soy, rice, coca – the desires of empires hold local people hostage. Demand for cocoa is increasing, but under conventional trade growers’ incomes do not rise alongside global prices. Instead, growers are obliged to make unsafe and unfair choices, and markets exploit children as workers and impose other forms of forced labour. Under conditions of rising demand, the ecosystems on which cocoa depends suffer. Fair trade is an important development in the cocoa industry because it introduces labour standards and helps regulate the compensation farmers receive. With fair trade, farmers mutually determine the best policies for themselves and their families. They gain the resources to build the social and physical infrastructure of their communities, including houses, co-operative insurance funds, and locally-based healthcare and education.
Cocoa has been a sacred food for thousands of years. Just like all farming, growing cocoa is a sacred activity, and we honour the people that cultivate this food by recognizing our relationship with them and supporting them to live healthy, prospering, secure lives.
Check out the other staff essays here: