Shannon M. (Human Resources Assistant Manager
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?”
When I first learned of fair trade, I remember thinking how obvious it seemed. A structured system that ensures farmers and workers receive fair compensation for their products and labour? Guaranteeing that sustainable environmental practices are used? A premium paid on product that is used to improve social services and conditions of the farmers’ and workers’ communities, as well as support investments being made in the local economic infrastructure? These all seemed like such obviously important and fundamental things that I was devastated when I realized how fair trade is far more uncommon than status quo. I have been trying to purchase fair trade products wherever possible ever since because I realized that as a consumer, my purchasing choices have the potential to impact the lives of farmers, workers and their families. Fair trade allows us to shop ethically.
Organic admittedly took me a bit longer to come around to – as a prairie girl, I just didn’t really get it. Our province relied on conventional farming methods to support our economy. Organic produce was rarely an option at the grocery store, and when it was, it definitely wasn’t local. Then I read about the “dirty dozen” and something clicked. Organic agriculture and processing techniques are healthier for us, family farmers and the environment.
Fair trade is important to the cocoa industry because it ensures that there is no forced labour. The cocoa industry is unfortunately synonymous with child slavery and forced labour. 43% of the world’s cocoa comes from the Ivory Coast region of West Africa. There have been ongoing reports of child slavery on cocoa plantations in this region. In addition to this, hundreds of thousands of West African children between the ages of 9 and 12 work in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms because their parents cannot afford to send them to school. The price paid for conventional, non-fair trade certified cocoa is so low that cocoa farmers live in extreme poverty. Fair trade ensures not only that there is no forced labour but also that farmers are paid fairly to cover the costs of sustainable production and living – which means they can send their kids to school, afford access to medical services like dental and eye care, and invest back into their businesses. This in turn helps build vibrant and sustainable communities.
Organic farming practices are important to the cocoa industry because they use traditional growing techniques that rely on natural pest control rather than chemical pesticides and utilize shade grown agriculture techniques, which means they inter-mix a crop (like cacao) with shade-giving trees. A natural shade canopy protects species living in the region like birds which then provides a natural form of pest control. Decomposing foliage from the trees provides fertilizer for the cacao crops and ensures healthy soil. This diversifies the farmers’ harvest by growing fruit and other food crops which they can feed their families with or sell for additional income. These all contribute to enhanced biodiversity and economic stability for the farmers.
Shannon’s essay has been chosen as the winner of the Peru Essay Contest!
She will head to Peru on June 23rd to stay with a fairtrade farm family. Shannon will harvest cocoa pods, plant organic seedlings, taste chocolate, review quality control systems, and attend an annual agricultural fair and expo. We’re very excited to hear all about the journey! Come to this year’s AGM in September to catch a presentation on this once-in-a-lifetime experience! Learn more about the contest here.
Check out the other staff essays here: