Alyssa N. (Outreach Coordinator
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?”
“Eating is an agricultural act.” ~ Wendell Berry
We all eat, and there is a certain responsibility that comes with being eaters. Fair trade and organic certifications empower eaters with sustainable and ethical food options. They relieve us of the individual responsibility to meet every farmer or research every chocolate bar to uncover whether our food meets a basic standard for social and environmental justice. We trust that certified organic food is clean and that fair trade workers are fairly compensated. Organic and fair trade represent health, the health of our bodies, our land, and our human family.
Organic farming embraces biodiversity, boosts crop resilience and helps ensure food security. Organic is important to me because it turns heritage seeds, with the help of healthy soil, clean water and energizing sunlight, into nutritious, delicious food. Fair trade supports sustainable farming practices, and encourages transparency and open dialogue, leading to greater equity in international trade relationships. Fair trade is important to me because it builds capacity in the Global South, promoting sustainable development, while instilling confidence, trust and assurance for consumers in the Global North. In true organics and fair trade, food is not simply a commodity; it is a life-good, a human right, an intimate connection of human-to-land, and when shared, human-to-human. Organic and fair trade are nature-centred and people-centred. They represent healthy eaters and self-sufficient, flourishing communities.
For all these reasons and more, organic and fair trade are important to the cocoa industry. This is an industry in which a few giant chocolate corporations hold so much purchasing power that they are able to set prices so low that farmers cannot afford to pay decent wages. This has forced landowners to become slave-owners. The cocoa industry has one of the highest rates of modern slavery, where forced labourers and child slaves use dangerous chemical sprays, harvest and ferment much of the world’s cocoa. When a cocoa farmer chooses to go organic or join a fair trade co-operative, their workers are given the chance not only to be healthier, but also fairly paid.
Organic cocoa is not simply “chemical-free,” and fair trade chocolate is not just a logo allowing large corporations to step in (or stomp) on a niche market. These certifications truly mean robust soil, diverse crops, local markets, happy consumers and vibrant, integrated communities. So much more than the absence of chemical inputs or the addition of a direct trade relationship, true organics and true fair trade represent a truly alternative food network, operating as an escape from the dominant capitalist food complex, which is destructive by its very nature.
We all eat, and our increasingly interconnected global community offers up the opportunity to learn the path our food travels. It’s time we learn the stories behind our favourite foods, to trace back to the roots of the plants themselves. This trip to Peru offers an opportunity for all Kootenay Co-op members to learn the story of one product, to open the dialogue, increase transparency and instill trust. I believe I am well-suited to tell this story. Gracias por la opportunidad.
Check out the other staff essays here: