Why I Only Buy Fair-Trade Chocolate

With six hours of travel and another inspiriting site visit, yesterday was too busy to post. Unbelievably bumpy roads, suspension bridges, incredibly gracious hosts, insight into the lives of the people that produce the cocoa beans from which comes the chocolate that so many of us love, and more all filled the day to overflowing.

The cooperative we visited consisted of more than 65 small farms (often of about two or three acres each) and growing. It takes 25 farms to come together to form a co-operative, and often many co-operatives are drawn together to form a second-tier, or national co-operative in order to most effectively partner with outside groups and to try to get the best prices for their farmers.

I suspect you won’t be surprised that harvesting cocoa beans is a labor-intensive process. But I have to admit that I did not know just how labor-intensive it was before our trip. We spent the day at the processing plant and testing center. Here the leaders of the cooperative grow the seedlings that will eventually grow into the trees that yield the fruit pods that hold the cocoa beans. Farmers in the cooperative receive the seedlings – many of which have been grafted with high-yielding trees in order to cultivate a more productive tree – for free once they have grown to a height of two or three feet. The farmers later bring back their cocoa fruits to be inspected, have the cocoa beans and pulp extracted, and have those beans then weighted bought by the Co-op.

Once the beans are at the Co-op, they are harvested from the fruit and go through a five-day, multi-step process of fermentation. Then they are spread out to dry in a shaded area, as too much sunlight can damage the beans. But too little sunlight can fail to dry them, in which case the Co-operative employees spread the beans out over an oven to dry them. Inspected once again, the seeds are bagged and stored until they are sent to cocoa producers all over the world.

LWR, partnering with local agencies and NGOs, has supplied the Co-operative with equipment, provided training in producing higher yields, constructed test sites on which to determine the best tree specimens and farming techniques, and equipped some of the farmers to be teachers so that they can travel around the region and share what they have learned with other farmers. Since the Co-operative we visited was started, production has increased significantly and the number of farms in the Co-op continues to grow, spreading the benefits of the shared resources to more and more farmers.

Five years ago, for instance, before this project started, the annual yield of the cooperative we visited was 1000 lbs. a year. Today, that yield is closer to 10,000 lbs. That ten-fold increase in production in just five years is a result of their very hard work of the farmers and, in part, the support LWR has been able to offer because of your generosity.

Even with such success, the farmers continue to have to work extremely hard to make a decent living in a country where 70% of the population lives below the poverty level. Typically, farmers receive about 4 cents for every dollar you and I pay for a chocolate bar. Free trade groups, of which this cooperative is a part, are able to raise this to 6 to 7 cents on the dollar. While that is still a small amount, that additional 50% or more makes an incredible difference to farmers.

As I mentioned, it was another incredible day. And knowing a little more about where chocolate comes from and the farmes who work so hard to produce it, as well as seeing first-hand the difference it makes to buy fair trade, I don’t think I’ll ever eat chocolate that doesn’t have the fair trade label on it again. If you want to learn more about the process that turns cocoa beans into the fair trade chocolate we love, feel free to watch the two videos I’ve posted below. While they describe LWR’s partnership with Divine Chocolate and the Kuapa Kokoo Co-operative in Ghana, there are many similarities to what we saw yesterday in Honduras.

Notes: 1) You can learn more about LWR’s work with Fair Trade Chocolate here.
2) If you are receiving this post by email, you may need to click the title at the top of the post in order to watch the videos.