Tag Archives: agriculture

Plant and Community Disease: Impediments in Small Scale Cacao Farming.

In the summer after my sophomore year of college, I conducted research on sustainable development in Costa Rica and Panama. This was one of the most enriching academic and personal experiences in my life to-date, especially the week that I spent living on a small-scale cacao farm in Mastatal, Costa Rica. That magical week involved working and eating alongside the absolutely lovely family that has owned the land its cacao trees for generations.

Mastatal is a unique agricultural community that lies in the south west region of the San Jose Province. It is a town that has always relied on agriculture, usually on a small scale. It has never industrialized and found a comfortable place in the larger Costa Rica economy, but since the turn of the century it has revived its economy through agricultural tourism, or agritourism.

Wait… what is agritourism?

Agricultural tourism is a subset of the larger trend toward ecotourism, a style of travel that involves leaving a small footprint on the environment, while connecting on a deeper level with it. Agritourism involves staying and working on a farm with the goal of getting closer to the source of the food you eat. This trend is generally being driven by global changes in food and dining, climate and energy conservation, health and wellness, and heritage conservation (Ciglovska, 278). Four farms in Mastatal, all focusing on different products, use agritourism as a source of additional income, hosting visitors, giving tours, making local dishes, and putting the travelers to work. Where I was staying, La Iguana Chocolate, was the main attraction, because everybody loves chocolate.

The group of students that I was a part of worked alongside the family that owned the cacao operation, while conducting field research on the budding agritourism industry in the small town as a whole. The work was hard but rewarding and gave me closer insight into the process of harvesting cacao and making chocolate, as well as the struggles of a small scale producer. Chocolate is made from the beans inside a fruit that grows from a tree, something that I was unaware of before my time on the farm. Upon arriving we were given a full tasting, one of the services that is offered to travelers each day. The couple that operates the farm greeted us with an interesting looking fruit that reminded me of a squash, and when they broke it open it was filled with small white fuzzy pods. They encouraged us to take one of the pods and eat the white fuzzy material off of it, and that was the moment that I found my favorite fruit. Yes, cacao is my favorite fruit. It sounds crazy… most people have no idea where the cocoa powder and butter that makes their favorite treat comes from, or that the raw fruity product could be so delicious. For those of you struggling to believe me, I have attached a video of a tasting. That first sight of the cacao pods was only the beginning of my time spent with them over the course of my time at La Iguana.

The most rewarding part of the whole week was the time spent in the fields harvesting the cacao pods. The work is eye-opening in its difficulty. We started our day with a quick breakfast at around seven o’clock in the morning before packing lunch and all the necessary tools onto the back of a single horse. We then set off through the back of the immediate property, down a dirt, and then mud, road for about a mile until we came to a river. Shoes were removed and the river was crossed, the small dog accompanying us was carried, of course. After we scaled a large hill we finally reached the edge of a forest, situated in higher altitude than we were previously. The walk alone was enough to exhaust the group, but it is highly necessary that the cacao trees are in the perfect environment to grow effectively. Cacao trees need to be in an area with high moisture but good draining, usually shaded by other trees and surrounded by a heavy underbrush of leaves. This is knowledge that has been passed down for generations, since the first cacao tree was brought to Mastatal. These very particular conditions were perfect in this hillside forest, and the journey to reach the trees is absolutely worth it when the trees are highly productive. This is especially true when your livelihood depends on it.

Once we got to the vast area of cacao trees there was important training that needed to take place. There were several strains of cacao growing in the field. This meant that the ideal color and shape of the pods that were ready for harvest could differ from tree to tree. Green pods turn a deep yellow, but yellow pods turn a bright red. Clearly there is room for confusion. Beyond that, any pod that has black spots on it must be taken down despite its level of ripeness. The black spots are a disease that can ruin an entire harvest, Moniliophthora roreri, but more on that later. We also had to learn how to properly use the sharp tools to cut the pods from the trunks of the cacao trees. It seemed like at every step in the process of growing and harvesting cacao there was only one very specific way of doing things. While we may have been a bit unprepared, we were set off into the forest, machete and large hemp bag in hand.

Aside from the cliff of mud and rushing river that had to be passed to reach the crop, the work itself was awfully dangerous as well. Costa Rica is home to the Fer-de-Lance, an incredibly venomous viper who likes to live in underbrush… underbrush much like that required to grow cacao. Some of the pods are also out of reach, making climbing a tree with a machete in hand necessary. Once our bags were full with pods, we hauled them to the center of the forest and all dumped them out to extract the beans. While working on the pods, we chatted with the family about how they got started in cacao, and what the biggest challenges have been in making a living from the crop.

Pile of cacao pods from our harvest. Black pods have the Monilio disease and may not be useable.

While roughly two thirds of the worlds cacao production happens in West Africa, the plant is indigenous to Central and South America, an area that produces only five percent of the worlds cacao today (Leissle, 16). This is due to the colonial exportation of the production means to an area that was understood as having cheap and abundant labor that could support the booming chocolate industry. La Iguana is one of the few farms still producing cacao in the Mastatal area. We were told that cacao trees were brought to the area in the middle of the twentieth century because the Costa Rican Ministry of Agriculture saw it as an opportunity to breathe life into the economy of the area. In essence, small scale subsistence and fruit farmers were forced to change their production techniques and land use to cater to cacao. Encouraging shaded agro-ecosystems like cacao also “provide a promising means of addressing the challenges of creating a forest‐like habitat for tropical biodiversity in a rapidly deforested landscape, while simultaneously providing a lucrative crop for local agricultural communities” (Phillips‐Mora et al.).

However, many of the farmers that were planting cacao in Mastatal had to stop in the mid-90s when Monilio, the fungal disease discussed above, was spread through the area. We were told that there was no concrete understanding of how the disease came to the area, perhaps on the clothes of a traveler studying cacao. It was clear that this disease could cause hardship that seemed unsurmountable. It was well known that Monilio could be destroy long-term economic viability if even one yield was infected (Evans et al.). After the disease initially hit the La Iguana farm, they could not get enough pure cacao pods and had to revert to selling only fruit from their smaller fruit farm for a living. A highlight is that even in pods with black spots covering most of the fruit, it is possible that the fungus has not yet reached the beans on the inside, and the cacao is still useable.

A drawing I did for the farm as a parting gift. It reads “It’s what’s on the inside that counts” in reference to Monilia on cacao.

While La Iguana has implemented a few techniques to diminish the impact of the Monilia on their crop that has allowed them to maintain good harvests, there have been other struggles for the small farm in establishing a sustainable business model. The largest struggle for them, as well as the other farms shifting towards an agritourism model, was attracting the right crowds of people. The research that I ultimately produced from my time there looked at the marketing techniques of each of these farms, and how they are perceived by the surrounding community. I found that the initial launch of these farms as tourist destinations brought the wrong kind of people to the town, creating a tension between the farms and other locals. Jarkko Saarinen is a scholar who has done extensive research in the field, and he made a similar generalization that “high development goals of rural tourism may separate rural communities and tourism actors, which can cause economic and social conflicts, insecurity and locally unwanted changes in rural landscapes.” However, once La Iguana was able to control the crowds they were attracting, and their ability to bring new people to the area started having a positive impact on the greater community, they reached a new level of stability and social sustainability.

However, both the control of tourists coming to eat chocolate from the source, and the control of Monilio are ongoing battles for La Iguana Chocolate as well as other small scale cacao farmers in the region. I am infinitely grateful for the time I was able to spend there, and the friends I made in Mastatal. The knowledge that I gained from living and working in a small agricultural town going through a beautiful economic transformation will allow me to better navigate these communities in the future and work with them on their long term development and sustainability: environmental, economic, and social.

Works Cited:

Evans, Harry C., et al. “What’s in a Name: Crinipellis, the Final Resting Place for the Frosty Pod Rot Pathogen of Cocoa?” Mycologist, vol. 16, no. 4, Nov. 2002, pp. 148–52. Cambridge Core, doi:10.1017/S0269915X02004093.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity, 2018.

Phillips‐Mora, W., et al. “Biodiversity and Biogeography of the Cacao (Theobroma Cacao) Pathogen Moniliophthora Roreri in Tropical America.” Plant Pathology, vol. 56, no. 6, 2007, pp. 911–22. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/j.1365-3059.2007.01646.x.

Saarinen, Jarkko. “Traditions of Sustainability in Tourism Studies.” Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 33, no. 4, Oct. 2006, pp. 1121–40. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.annals.2006.06.007.

All photos were taken by Taylor Gates.

Wine and Chocolate: Race, Supply Chains, and the Creation of Value

In 2018, a bottle of 1945 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grand Cru wine was sold for over five hundred and fifty thousand dollars – an amount that the vast majority of us would be reluctant to spend on a house, let alone one consumer good. Similarly, the most expensive chocolates in the world are not only masterfully crafted but also unique collectors’ items – the To’ak Chocolate 2014-harvest bar, of which only 571 were made; DeLafée of Switzerland’s Gold Chocolate Box, with edible 24-carat gold flakes built-in; and Debauve & Gallais’s Le Livre, arranged in a gold-embossed leather box crafted to resemble a book. However, by stark contrast, the most expensive among these is sold for 440 pounds – nowhere near the incredible value of one bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. By taking a comparative look at the supply chains of both the chocolate and fine wine industries, and the systems of race which govern them, this paper explores how quality and monetary value are created in chocolate and wine, and seeks to understand how this enormous disparity of perceived value may arise.

Creating Craftsmanship in Winemaking

Craftsmanship and quality in wine are determined by a myriad of factors along the supply chain. From characteristics such as the minutiae of the production of grapes in vineyards, to the history of a given winemaker, and even to something as simple as the price of a bottle, wine is eagerly judged by Western audiences for its quality and thus its cultural importance. Wine has the potential to represent sophistication and class, and to hold astounding monetary value; the best-known winemakers capitalize on each of these characteristics to maintain their reputations for the highest quality wines.

The production of wine grapes depends heavily on a tightly controlled agricultural regimen: their quality can be influenced by temperatures throughout the growing season, the amount of precipitation received by the vines, and even the time of ripening and thus of harvest; such information has been painstakingly recorded by vintners across years to catalogue the quality of grapes in each vintage (Chevet et al.). For example, vines are susceptible to water stress – a result of an insufficient water supply – which is intimately connected to the concentration of anthocyanins and phenolics in red wine, the acidity of the fruit, and the incidence of the disease (Goodwin). Each of these features impact not only the flavor and quality of the wine, but also the yield of a given harvest. Then, after the actual production of the grapes the wine must be processed for production and distribution by crushing the grapes and fermenting the must, a process that is labor-intensive and often done by hand (or foot). Additionally, as seen in the case study of the Chilean wine industry, wine distribution requires bottles, barrels, and corks, as well as less tangible input as marketing, advertisement, and label design (Ceroni and Alfaro).

Wines vary vastly in terms of price and quality; bloggers have expounded upon their preferences between boxed wines, which are low-quality, highly standardized in terms of flavor, and apparently excellent for entertaining, with the added enticement of costing as little as fifty-nine cents per glass (Kaminski). From there, wines become more expensive, with price affected by factors such as vintage, age, and rarity. Famous vintners produce classic and traditional wines made from hand-crushed grapes; craft wine makers have established estates in specific locations to lend their wines a complex flavor borne from the ground they were grown in, a concept known as terroir. Interestingly, in a study on Oregon vineyards, it was found that terroir and place of origin of a given wine did not impact its taste as experienced by consumers, nor could it be used as a metric of the agricultural characteristics of a region. However, consumers did valueterroir, associating the area in which a wine was grown with the quality of that wine, not due to inherent agricultural disparities between vineyards, but rather due to the association of a higher price and more valuable experience with certain regions (Cross et al.).

Terroir and the intensely controlled agriculture it requires are two distinctly important qualities affecting the wine supply chain, both of which are capitalized upon by well-known winemakers. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti cites “respect for the soil” and a Pinot Noir with “incomparable genetic heritage” among their tenets for maintaining quality; additionally, the supply of their already-famous wines are restricted by the small size of their estate, located in an area carefully selected for optimum climactic conditions (“Profession of Faith”). Their wines are thus perceived as high-quality due to both their rarity and the inherent advantages of their location. In “A Taste That’s Eternal,” Sotheby’s Serena Sutcliffe speaks with the Drouhin family, one of the sole distributors of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, about the vintages they own (“A Taste That’s Eternal — The Legendary Wines of Robert Drouhin”).

Sutcliffe’s reverence as she speaks about the various vintages and the history of these wines lends significant weight to monetary assertions of their quality, as she states that one bottle generally sells for between twenty and thirty thousand dollars. Additionally, the branding on these bottles – from the elaborately calligraphied logo to the homogeneity of design between the wine labels, bottles, barrels, and cases – are indicative of a strict standard that can be perceived visually as well as through taste. This estate thus represents a microcosm of the method by which winemakers strive from quality, and reinforces the idea that this quality comes from the ground up.

Creating Craftsmanship in Artisan Chocolate

The creation of quality chocolate is, similarly, a question of a quality supply line; yet, the chocolate industry is dominated by two vastly different approaches to fine chocolate: craft bean-to-bar chocolate companies and fine chocolatiers. The similarities and disparities between these two, with regard to sourcing beans, refining them, and ultimately presenting a finished product, reveal significant parallels between the ways in which wine and chocolate are judged for quality.

Cacao has three primary varieties: criollo, trinitario, and forastero. Criollo cacao is the variety grown by the Maya and Aztec, while forastero cacao was sourced originally from South America; trinitario is used to refer to a hybrid of these two (Leissle). While these categorizations are genetically meaningless, they are steeped in historical and modern judgments of quality: criollo as the most prized, and forastero as the more plebeian variety. Modern cacao is sourced primarily from the equatorial regions of South America and Africa, particularly from Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Brazil, and Ecuador. Both the genetic origins of modern cacao and the agricultural conditions in which it is grown has a significant impact on taste and flavor of the cacao; for example, heirloom South American cacao has lower tannin levels than most West African cacao, while beans grown at high altitudes show greater fat content; both characteristics significantly impact the flavor of the bean (Stout). Thus, like that of wine grapes, cacao’s environment is strictly controlled in an effort to produce a quality product. Once the bean is grown, it undergoes a long processing chain to become a bar of chocolate. Processes of fermenting, roasting, winnowing, and grinding are dictated by specially designed equipment such as roll mills and longitudinal conches to produce quality chocolate liquor; this liquor is then shaped into bars for distribution (Stout).

At this point in the supply chain, the fine chocolate industry diverges somewhat from that of fine wines. Bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers assert the quality of their chocolate with evidence used by many wine makers – impeccable genetic sourcing, single-origin cacao, and the importance of bringing the flavor of the earth to the product. However, another, more public perception of fine chocolate, with roots in both history and fancy, lies not in such craft chocolate makers but with fine, often European chocolatiers, who have worked to create a culture of artisanal chocolate-based sweets – what we call chocolates or bonbons.

This video by L’Ecole Valrhona, a pastry and chocolate school located in Brooklyn, tagged #finechocolate on Instagram, demonstrates how technique and culinary skill can govern the quality of chocolate: the chef’s mastery of the chablon, a difficult-to-make thin chocolate shell, lends value to the chocolate he produces. Importantly, these characteristics of chocolate’s production, which are based on the maker and not the bean, in some cases also determine its price. Bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers, such as Valrhona, Scharffen Berger, and Godiva, are ranked among the best on the international market (Lande and Lande). However, fine chocolate makers such as Teuscher, Vosges Haut-Chocolat, and Richart produce not only chocolates but chocolate-based products, whose price is justified by their use of chocolate rather than by the chocolate itself (Lande and Lande). For example, Richart sells a wooden chocolate vault with seven drawers and climate gauges for 850 pounds, and Valentine gourmet chocolates (containing only a thin shell of dark chocolate) which sell for 61 pounds per box (Browne). Thus in contrast to the fine wine industry, what can be done with chocolate is just as important as the production of the chocolate itself.

Race in the Wine and Chocolate Industries

There are a number of interesting implications of the differences between wine and chocolate which can and should be tied to the inherent racial dynamics within both industries. First and foremost; vineyards are a white industry while cacao growing is not. The top wine producing nations are Italy, Spain, and France; these nations also produce few grapes overall, an indication that nearly all of the grapes grown in these nations are used for wine (Karlsson). This in turn implies that the majority of wine grapes are grown in these regions, where vineyards are economically able to produce a limited number of grapes for the express purpose of winemaking. By contrast, the top cacao producers are Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Indonesia, nations all made up of people of color. To add some additional perspective: while fine wine-producing and grape growing regions consist of the same set of nations, the finest chocolate makers are housed in Switzerland, France, Belgium, and the United States.

The types of labor abuses in both industries reveal that they exist within a system of production which ultimately uses the labor of black and brown people at the stages of production which do not create either monetary value or quality, and white labor at the stages which do. A good case study are the agrimafias of Italian vineyards, which employ and then exploit undocumented immigrant labor; an estimated third of all agricultural employment in Italy is thus illegal (Seifert and Valente). The majority of these immigrants are refugees of color from the fallout of the Arab Spring, while these agrimafias are owned and employed by white, natively Italian winemakers; the industry shows a clear systemic employment of underpaid workers of color at the agricultural stage of production –the stage at which the profit margins are lowest (Marcus). Similarly, cocoa has a long history of slave labor and forced labor supplied by displaced African slaves; even today, illegal systems of sharecropping and tax evasion in cacao-growing regions such as Brazil mean that worker exploitation and child labor are prevalent in cocoa production (Leissle; Picolotto et al.).

While both industries show a racial disparity between the workers in agricultural production and those further down the supply chain where quality is created, the branch of the chocolate industry focused on culinary excellence with chocolate exacerbates that disparity in particular. The very image of fine chocolate in the public eye involves extensive tempering and specialization; chocolate is not a fine food alone but must be incorporated into pralines, ganaches, and truffles – all recipes created by white cooks (Terrio). Holding a food which is historically Central and South American to standards of quality invented by white Europeans is a racist and colonial ideal; it invalidates the value of chocolate itself and instead instills value through its modification by whiteness. By contrast, wine, already a white product, is valued only for its terroir and vintage – both factors associated intrinsically with the Western European regions in which it is produced.

This principle can be noted in the ways in which chocolate and wine are advertised. Compare the following two advertisements:

Both of these advertisements play on the idea of the displacement of taste – that a taste can belong to a region, and be exported from that region to the consumer. Yet, the original taste of a French wine is implied to be diluted, to lose its gravity, when exported to an American consumer; however, the “exotic” flavors behind chocolate are implied to be packaged and enhanced for the express purpose of pleasing a similar consumer. This is not an isolated case; from the Conguitos of Spain to the Italian Nougatine, chocolate in advertising is linked closely with blackness and caricatures of blackness; chocolate thus becomes a colonial commodity despite the post-colonial world in which we live (Hackenesch).

Conclusion

By comparing the salient features of the fine wine and fine chocolate industries, the systems of race which govern both become clear. Chocolate, as a fundamentally black and brown good, is disproportionately affected within these systems; its exoticism is packaged for white audiences, and subject to white improvement to create quality and to appeal to the white palate. While these systemic factors of race may not be the only ones to explain why one bottle of wine can be sold at a standard of twenty thousand dollars, while equally fine and more difficult-to-grow chocolate can be sold for just 1% of the same value after added white refinement, they present a strong case by which we may examine how Western customers perceive value in the goods they consume.

Bibliography

“A Taste That’s Eternal — The Legendary Wines of Robert Drouhin.” Masterworks: Expert Voices, 15 Aug. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTCXsU_mN-c.

Browne, Valerie. “The World’s Most Expensive Chocolate.” INews, 13 Apr. 2017, https://inews.co.uk/inews-lifestyle/food-and-drink/worlds-expensive-chocolate/.

Ceroni, Jose, and Rodrigo Alfaro. “Information Gathering and Classification for Collaborative Logistics Decision Making.” Supply Chain Management – New Perspectives, edited by Sanda Renko, InTech Open, 2011, DOI: 10.5772/23170.

Chevet, Jean-Michel, et al. “Climate, Grapevine Phenology, Wine Production, and Prices: Pauillac (1800-2009).” American Economic Review, vol. 101, no. 3, 2011, pp. 142–46, doi:10.1257/aer.101.3.142.

Cross, Robin, et al. “What Is the Value of Terroir?” American Economic Review, vol. 101, no. 3, 2011, pp. 152–56, doi:10.1257/aer.101.3.152.

Goodwin, Ian. “Managing Water Stress in Grape Vines in Greater Victoria.” Agriculture Victoria, Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Nov. 2002, p. AG1074.

Hackenesch, Silke. “Advertising Chocolate, Consuming Race? On the Peculiar Relationship of Chocolate  Advertising, German Colonialism, and Blackness.” Food & History, vol. 12, no. 1, 2015, pp. 97–114.

Kaminski, Lisa. “We Tried 5 Popular Brands to Find The Best Boxed Wine.” Taste of Home, 29 Aug. 2018, https://www.tasteofhome.com/article/best-boxed-wines/.

Karlsson, Per. “The World’s Grape Production 2000-2012.” BK Wine Magazine, June 2013, https://www.bkwine.com/features/winemaking-viticulture/global-grape-production-2000-2012/.

Lande, Nathaniel, and Andrew Lande. “The 10 Best Chocolatiers in the World.” National Geographic, 28 Dec. 2012, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/intelligent-travel/2012/12/28/the-10-best-chocolatiers-in-the-world/.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Marcus, David. “The Wine Workers We Don’t See.” The Street, 14 Oct. 2018, https://www.thestreet.com/lifestyle/food-drink/the-wine-workers-we-don-t-see-14743573.

Picolotto, Andre, et al. “COCOA SUPPLY CHAIN ADVANCES AND CHALLENGES TOWARD THE PROMOTION OF DECENT WORK: A Situational Analysis.” International Labor Organization, 2018, https://drive.google.com/file/d/12UwXzZ9yKu24bQQ5Noz2VVMNeuU5ibqS/view.

“Profession of Faith.” Domaine de La Romanee-Conti, 2019, http://m.romanee-conti.fr/profession-de-foi.php.

Seifert, Stefan, and Marica Valente. An Offer That You Can’t Refuse? Agrimafias and Migrant Labor on Vineyards in Southern Italy. DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research, 2018, https://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:diw:diwwpp:dp1735.

Stout, Robbie. Ritual Chocolate. Cambridge, MA.

Terrio, Susan. Crafting the Culture and History of French Chocolate. University of California Press, 2000.

Madécasse: Fueling Economic Growth in Madagascar

The chocolate industry is afflicted by a number of issues ranging from child labor, low standards of living for cocoa farmers, and environmental degradation. In recent years, consumer dialogue around choosing a brand of chocolate on merits other than price has gained momentum. Now more than ever before, consumers want to know how ethical the chocolate they are purchasing is. Many smaller chocolate companies believe in careful sourcing of beans and labor as a way of assuring their customers that their chocolate is indeed ethical. A company that seeks to eliminate questionable practices while promoting economic growth and prosperity for the farmers and workers is Madécasse. In this article, I will briefly elaborate on the prevalent issues that plague the chocolate industry, then closely examine the operations of Madécasse and discuss how this company is tackling such issues. Lastly, I will elaborate on responses from a survey study done among students asking about their opinions on the Madécasse brand.

Prevalent Problems in the Chocolate Industry

Child labor is a major problem in the chocolate industry. It is common across West Africa and other cocoa growing regions to have children working on plantations. A large portion of child labor is rooted in family and socioeconomic pressures. This personal connection makes it harder to tackle the problem. Regardless, many large corporations look past the issue and benefit from low labor costs. Despite international efforts to end such practices, it is a reality that child labor is a prevailing problem in cocoa plantations (Berlan, 1091).

Standards of living for cocoa farmers are low as a result of their minimal and volatile incomes. In 2016, the chocolate market sold an estimated $100 billion, yet only $12 billion was allocated to the value of the raw cacao (Leissle, 30). This serves to show how little of the value extracted from chocolate in the global market is given to farmers. Cocoa farmers are subject to price fluctuations as well as oligopolistic power in cocoa purchasing. This leaves farmers powerless and suffering from price instability.

Environmental degradation is prevalent in cocoa growing regions. Farmers seeking to maximize profits to earn livable wages, commonly employ practices that contribute to environmental problems. For example, excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides or clearing cocoa fields to begin growing other cash crops (Marshall, R. Scott, et al., 7). These practices also affect endemic species that have to adjust to changing landscapes.

How does Madécasse approach these problems?

The founders of Madécasse are Brett Beach and Tim McCollum. They spent two years in Madagascar while they were volunteering for the Peace Corps and fell in love with the country’s culture, people and landscape. Years after returning to the U.S they decided that they wanted to give back to Madagascar by fueling economic growth for its people. They landed on the idea of creating a chocolate company entirely run in Madagascar to provide jobs and fair wages. They sought to leverage the high quality cocoa already in the region to produce high quality chocolate. They wanted to create chocolate entirely made in Madagascar that could be sold in global markets, but whose profits would be more evenly distributed along the supply chain.

The founders of Madécasse call their business model the Direct Trade model. This model seeks to maximize the value added to the final product in Madagascar. Essentially deliver four times the value as other companies would. This business model is composed of four main parts: 1. Building strong relationship with cocoa farmers; 2. Collaborating with a chocolate factory in Madagascar; 3. Sourcing ingredients and materials from Madagascar; 4. Exporting the finished product to global markets. It is through this holistic four fold system that the founders of Madécasse were able to create a model that delivers four times the social and economic benefit than the standard Fair Trade system (Marshall, R. Scott, et al., 15). The video below summarizes what the brand is about and their business model. It shows the artisanal values that the company holds and how closely they work with the people from Madagascar.

Step 1: Relationship with Cocoa Farmers

Madécasse partners with 70 cocoa farmers in the Sambirano Valley of Madagascar. The founders had to invest time and money when determining which farmers to partner with, as they were looking for farmers committed to fostering long-term relationships. Madécasse provides training to farmers on fermentation and drying of cocoa beans. By introducing these farmers to new techniques, equipment and training, Madécasse helps them substantially increase the value of the beans they are selling. It is estimated that on average, Madécasse offers farmers a price that is 20% higher than the market price for cured beans. It is worth nothing that farmers are allowed to sell to other buyers, however they rarely choose to. The partnership in turn provides farmers with financial stability through higher income streams to help cover costs and provide for their families.

The image above shows how a Madécasse worker is teaching the farmers on site about cocoa production techniques.

Step 2: Collaboration with Chocolate Factory

Madécasse partners with a chocolate factory in Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar to process the high quality beans they sourced from local farmers. This factory employs 20 Malagasy men and 20 Malagasy women, in addition to a full-time manager. The process of making chocolate begins with trucks that bring the beans into the factory, where they are roasted in large batches. Ingredients are then added to create a wide range of flavors in the Madécasse product line. The chocolate is conched on site. It is then wrapped in foil and inserted into the wrapper and placed in 12 count display boxes. All the processing steps are done by hand in the factory.

The image above shows a completed box of chocolate in the classic wrapping.

Step 3: Sourcing from Madagascar

As mentioned previously, all of the beans and materials for making the chocolate and processing it are obtained from Madagascar. The only material that is imported is the French wrapper paper but otherwise all color printing is done on site. It is important to highlight that Madécasse’s production chocolate has resulted in the establishment of secondary industries in Madagascar. These secondary industries include utilities and packaging. In this way, along with the direct benefits to the farmers, Madécasse generates much greater social impact than exporting Fair trade cocoa alone.

Step 4: Exporting the finished product to global markets

The finished boxes of chocolates are transported in trucks owned by the chocolate factory. Madécasse chocolates are shipped to international markets, mostly to the United States and Europe. In terms of the U.S, the chocolates are shipped overseas and they arrive in Brooklyn where they are then distributed to stores all over the country. As of July 2012, there were more than 1,250 stores in the U.S carrying Madécasse chocolate, including 300 Whole Foods stores (Marshall, R. Scott, et al., 17)

Social and Environmental Impact

Madécasse’s measure of social and environmental impact is measured in “bars.” For example, the company estimates that it takes about 18 minutes to produce a bar. Of those minutes, farm labor accounts for 8 minutes of 43%. This shows that the labor in Madagascar is almost doubled due to Madécasse’s business model. This additional labor is met in the form of utilities or packaging and it essentially increases the number of people employed in the country. Additionally, $0.88 per bar is kept in country as opposed to $0.13 per bar kept when using the fair trade system. This means that seven times more profits are staying in Madagascar (Marshall, R. Scott, et al., 19). In terms of environmental impact, Madécasse is committed to preserving the natural environment. It is common in Madagascar for farmers to turn cocoa plantations into plantations of other more profitable cash crops. This damages the ecosystem of the area by eliminating the biodiversity that exists. To prevent this, Madécasse trains farmers on how to increase crop yields and use techniques that will allow them to get more money for the cocoa they grow. Additionally, the company started to collaborate with Conservation International organization and the Bristol Zoological Society to monitor species like lemurs that live in cocoa plantations in Madagascar. These efforts help protect endemic species in the area (Mironska and Steuwe, 89).

The image above shows a special edition wrapper created by Madécasse to promote a campaign to save the lemur.

In an effort to increase transparency and objectivity in measuring social impact, Madécasse entered into a partnership with Wildlife Returns organization. This third party entity helps in tracking the environmental and social impact of the company’s activities. The company published the first iteration of their analysis in 2017. The report outlines specific economic benefits as well as interviews with farmers who work with Madécasse. These farmers cite how much the company has done to train them and allow them to obtain higher crop yields and subsequently how much more they pay them for their cocoa (Madécasse Impact Report, 5-9).

Survey Results

The market for ethical chocolate is growing rapidly. This makes it ever more pressing for Madécasse to project to customers what makes their model for producing chocolate unique. In an effort to test if the story Madécasse is selling to customers is working, I interviewed two students to gauge their response to the brand. I first showed them the bar of chocolate and had them look at the wrapping that had the certifications listed and comment. Next I had them taste it and comment on the flavor. Lastly, I had them read “Direct Trade” tab on the website that explains what makes them better than the conventional “Fair Trade” system and comment (“Madécasse Direct Trade”, 1). Part of it is reproduced below.

Fair trade is a label. It’s used by large companies, to verify that farmers who live thousands of miles away from where the chocolate is made are paid a fair price for their cocoa … We go way beyond fair trade. We know the farmers we work with on a daily basis. And they know us. We share meals in their homes and we share a vision for prosperity.

The first student commented on the lemur on the wrapper and wondered if it was endemic to Madagascar. The student commented on the direct trade certification but did not know how it differed from fair trade. In terms of flavor, they liked the taste and said it tasted much more bold than regular dark chocolate. Lastly, after reading the website the student said he would be more willing to buy the bar because he saw the value of a direct trade system as opposed to the traditional fair trade certification. The second student had similar initial thoughts about the wrapper and the flavor. However, this student’s ending conclusion was distinct. The student felt that the direct trade website was not convincing enough. He felt that the fact that it was their “direct trade” certification instead of an institutional certification took away from their credibility. These varying conclusions speak to the fact that the company should consider doing more to explain the validity of their system.

Madécasse has a unique business model that strives to produce the maximum economic and social benefit for the people in Madagascar. Through their Direct Trade model they are able to educate farmers, provide higher cocoa prices to them, and create new jobs for locals in Madagascar. However, the small survey shows that Madécasse should strive to tell their story to attract customers as to why their brand is unique. As a whole, it is encouraging to see brands like Madécasse who are making an effort to tackle the issues that prevail in the chocolate industry.

Works Cited

Scholarly Sources

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” pp. 1088-1100

“Madécasse Impact Report (2017).” Madécasse, 2017, madecasse.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Madécasse-2017-Impact-Report.pdf.

“Madécasse Direct Trade”, Madécasse, 2019, http://www.madecasse.com/direct-trade

Marshall, R. Scott, et al. “Case 3. Madécasse: Competing with a ‘4x Fair Trade’ Business Model.” Case Studies in Social Entrepreneurship: The Oikos Collection Vol. 4, pp. 54–86., doi:10.9774/gleaf.978-1-78353-049-6_5.

Mironska, Dominika, and Inga Steuwe. Journal of Corporate Responsibility and Leadership, vol. 5, no. 2, ser. 2018, 3 Jan. 2018. 2018, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/JCRL.2018.013.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Multimedia Sources

Madécasse Cocoa Bars. Digital image. Couture Candies. 2019 http://www.couturecandies.com/madecasse-dark-chocolate-mint-crunch-2-64-oz-bar/

Madécasse Save the Lemur. Digital image. FoodBev. June 8, 2016. https://www.foodbev.com/news/madecasse-launches-line-of-bars-to-help-protect-endangered-lemurs/

Madécasse Teaching Farmers. RSF. July 5, 2015. https://rsfsocialfinance.org/2015/07/09/madecasse-breaks-the-mold-by-making-chocolate-at-the-source/

“We Are Madécasse.” YouTube, Madécasse Chocolate & Vanilla, 20 Oct. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUxhgqyYuGk.

The Keys to Cacao’s Battle With Disease: Technology & Propaganda

The ordinary consumer does not usually pause to reflect on the origins of the chocolate he/she consumes. Yet, the ingredients of chocolate undergo a lot of processing before they are ultimately turned into a final good. And, before all human-induced processing can ever happen, a growth and reproduction cycle of cacao is absolutely necessary. However, cacao’s future may be under question. Though humans may continue supplying the arduous hand labor required for cacao tree cultivation, cacao diseases prove to be at cross purposes to a threatening level. Plus, with the looming advent of climate change, these diseases may potentially gain more traction, and put at risk global, and not just local, cacao production. Hence, it is an opportune moment for humanity to pool resources into the research and development of barriers to cacao diseases. That is, if it is still in the best interest of society to help cocoa trees survive.

At the heart of this problem is the botanical and natural history of cacao. Theobroma Cacao (theobroma translating to “Food of the Gods”) is the scientific name the naturalist Linnaeus gave to the cacao tree, which bears the fruit essential to the production of chocolate.[efn_note] 1) Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate, (Thames & Hudson Inc: 2013), 18. [/efn_note] Cacao’s origin is very likely to have been the northwest Amazon basin.[efn_note] 2) Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 37. [/efn_note] Though there is no consensus on the roots of cultivated Theobroma cacao, the oldest known traces of domesticated cacao date back to 1800 BC, and the Olmec civilization is thought to have been the first to either domesticate the plant or discover the process of using cacao beans to make chocolate. [efn_note] 3) Ibid, 35. [/efn_note]

Theobroma cacao species are very similar regarding their fundamental reproductive cycles. Along the trunk of a cacao tree, small flowers bloom. The lucky ones – those which end up pollinated only by midges – end up giving birth to cacao pods: these contain a sweet, white pulp, which engulfs so-called “beans” (actually seeds), and these beans are the parts which ultimately are used to produce chocolate as we know it today. Wild animals actually seek the sweet, white pulp (which humans remove via fermentation in the chocolate production), and inadvertently end up distributing the beans, aiding the natural cycle. But, the “food of the gods” is quite particular about its preferences: A cacao tree loves the shade, will demand year-round moisture, will not tolerate temperatures below 16o C, and will typically not yield its fruit unless it is within the band of 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the Equator.[efn_note] 4) Coe and Coe, The True History of Chocolate, 19. [/efn_note] If cacao pods are in the right conditions to grow, they will take between four to five months to reach maximum size, plus one more month to fully ripen.[efn_note] 5) Ibid, 21. [/efn_note]  Cacao’s diffusion across the globe and human selection have together resulted in an understanding of two main subspecies of Theobroma cacao which may interbreed and form fertile hybrids (e.g. the trinitario hybrid): criollo and forastero.[efn_note] 6) Ibid, 26. [/efn_note] While criollo cacao is considered to have a more superior quality, with more flavor and aroma, the forastero cacao is more prolific and accounts for more than 80% of the world’s cacao crop.[efn_note] 7) Ibid. [/efn_note] 

This burdening list of demands does not diminish the historical, standing desire for the food of the gods. Indeed, these demands might as well add to the value of cacao. A cacao bean mostly consists of fat, while less than 10 percent of its weight is protein and starch.[efn_note] 8) Ibid, The True History of Chocolate, 28. [/efn_note] Regarding chemical composition, cacao contains two alkaloids (methylxanthines), theobromine and caffeine. Caffeine is addictive, as is sugar, a relatively recent addition tied to European chocolate consumption. Cacao is known for containing hundreds of compounds, among which stands out the antioxidant flavonoid compound, quercetin, “known to have not only antioxidant but also anti-inflammatory activity.”[efn_note] 9) Ibid, The True History of Chocolate, 31. [/efn_note]  Given the chemical complexity of cacao, it is perhaps less surprising that it has been associated with numerous different purposes, such as a unit of currency, medicine, sacred symbol, supposed aphrodisiac, congregational drink, and even source of energy and strength. But, the array of diseases cacao is prone to, including “witches’ brooms,” pod rots, and wilts, puts the entire world supply at risk, especially given the small diversity of species.

The Witches’ Broom Disease is caused by the fungus Moniliophthora perniciosa, and prevents cacao trees from reproducing. In Brazil for example, the “Witches’ Brooms ” cocoa disease – spread as part of a malicious political campaign in a late 1980s sabotage against landowners  – resulted in a dramatic downfall of national cocoa production, changing Brazil’s role as an exporter of cacao into an importer. In Ventania, a 900-person village in the northeast of Bahia which once flourished with cacao plantations, tragic consequences were visible, and remain evident to this day. Unemployment rose as cattle jobs were far fewer than cocoa jobs. Crime escalated and adolescents were, and continue to be, drawn to drugs and prostitution. Surely, the world has since seen more security checks in airports to help prevent transport and contamination of agricultural crops. Yet, if any disease like witches’ broom disease somehow were contracted in a major cacao-producing country, such as the Ivory Coast, that would provoke disastrous ripple effects.

Many of the technologies taken for granted today are in some way or another a consequence of the homo sapiens’ control over fire and ignition.[efn_note] 10) Harari, Yuval N., Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, (New York Harper: 2015) [/efn_note] To draw an analogy, in the same way that fire plays a critical role in the cooking of a raw meat to be eaten, most of the technology in the business of cacao is concentrated on the processing of cacao into a consumable, desirable chocolate. But, fire is also employable in the defense of a tribe’s piece of meat from a hungry lion, and so must be technology in the face of disease. Extrapolating from this analogy, technological advances have helped civilizations make the most of cacao as a resource for consumer’s demands, but now should ideally begin to shift towards the priority of protecting cacao in its raw form. As Kristy Leissle puts it, accounts for “the world is running out of chocolate” are generally published to increase the supply of cacao and drive down prices for the largest chocolate producers.[efn_note] 11)  Leissle, Kristy, (Polity Press: 2018), 178. [/efn_note]  Yet, this is not a debate of merely increasing supply, it is about diversifying to diminish risk, and increasing cacao’s immunity to diseases.

That is where genetic modification comes in with a promising future. In September 2018, “the 35 billion dollar corporation [Mars] pledged $1 billion as part of a plan to reduce the company’s carbon footprint by 60 percent or more by 2050.”[efn_note] 12)  Vandette, Kate. 2018. “Genetically Modified Cacao Could Stop Chocolate from Running out,” Earth.Com (blog). January 3, 2018. [/efn_note] In the face of climate change, Mars and UC Berkeley are using CRISPR technology to begin exploring gene editing. This information is also supported by Erin Brodwin’s account in the World Economic Forum.[efn_note] 13)  Brodwin, Erin. n.d. “Chocolate Could Be Extinct by 2040.” [/efn_note]  Human intervention may prove to be essential to the survival of cacao as well as the efficiency of its production.

Benefits of GMOs are already apparent in the cultivation of “gold rice” and potatoes. But, media is a challenge: the wave of non-GMO pressure must be confronted with rational, data-driven evidence along with more personal stories and appeals pathos with which consumers will more sentimentally connect. For example, one way of framing the argument follows:

Harmful pesticides in potato fields are avoidable when gene edited potatoes are immune to pests. In turn, this prevents workers on the field from getting brain damage from the toxic pesticides they spread.

The example above demonstrates an underlying truth: Propaganda and public interaction have a tremendous power to influence people. Seemingly aware of this notion, and with the purpose of diminishing the negative image of GMOs, “an advocacy group for genetic crop modification is giving away 4,000 pro-GMO chocolates for free in the run-up to Valentine’s Day,” reported Jeremy Hill on February 13, 2019.[efn_note] 14) Hill, Jeremy. 2019. “Genetically-Modified Love? Free Chocolate Pushed as Climate Boon,” February 13, 2019. [/efn_note]  Yet, because there are still uncertain long-term effects of GMO plants, and some GMOs have negatively impacted butterfly populations, cacao producers should invest in the research and development of GMOs, albeit with caution for unexpected effects.[efn_note] 15) Glass, Emily. n.d. “The Environmental Impact of GMOs – One Green PlanetOne Green Planet,” Accessed in 2019. [/efn_note]  Ideally, it would be best if the flora and fauna where GMOs are put in place could be replicated into a sample environment for experimentation. This way, unintended effects may be mitigated, and the public perception of much-needed GMOs may ameliorate. Ultimately, genetic modification may serve humankind as a wall of fire. But, it must simultaneously be supervised, as an unwatched fire may get out of control and cause serious damage.


WORKS CITED

Brodwin, Erin. n.d. “Chocolate Could Be Extinct by 2040.” World Economic Forum. Accessed March 15, 2019. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/01/chocolate-is-on-track-to-go-extinct-in-40-years/.

Glass, Emily. n.d. “The Environmental Impact of GMOs – One Green PlanetOne Green Planet.” One Green Planet Organization. Accessed March 15, 2019. https://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/the-environmental-impact-of-gmos/.

Harari, Yuval N., Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind, (New York: Harper: 2015).

Hill, Jeremy. 2019. “Genetically-Modified Love? Free Chocolate Pushed as Climate Boon,” February 13, 2019. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-13/genetically-modified-love-free-chocolate-aims-to-flip-opinions.

Kristy Leissle, (Polity Press: 2018), 178.

Vandette, Kate. 2018. “Genetically Modified Cacao Could Stop Chocolate from Running out • Earth.Com.” Earth.Com (blog). January 3, 2018. https://www.earth.com/news/genetically-modified-cacao-chocolate/.

Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe, The True History of Chocolate, (Thames & Hudson Inc: 2013), 18.

Destined for Contention: Chocolate’s Place in a “Healthy” World

Chocolate, and what it means to people, differs across time and space. From its inception as the seeds of a fruit tree to the myriad ways in which it is transformed and eventually consumed by humans, chocolate’s potential variety seems limitless. The history of chocolate merits this variety; it is a fascinating story across multiple continents and cultures. What becomes ever more apparent when studying chocolate’s history as a food, and potentially as a healthy food, is that human obsession with food – in general, but more pertinent to this paper as a source of health – is no new phenomenon. The Western diet has undergone huge transformation since the industrial revolution, chocolate was transformed along with it, and both have not slowed in their development. When chocolate was first encountered by Europeans, the scientific reasoning behind food knowledge was based on a 1500-year-old system developed in Ancient Greece and Rome. Today, modern science allows us to measure the nutritional content of anything and everything we can think of ingesting. But, alas, this technological exactitude has not led to uniform consensus when it comes to which foods are healthy and which are not. Diversity, in both our options of foods and the opinions on which of them we should choose to consume, still reigns supreme. This paper will track chocolate, from its birth place to the continents where it is now most widely and voluminously consumed, and attempt to appraise its value as a beneficial dietary supplement. It will also discuss what effect the perception of chocolate as a health food might have on the industry today. What becomes apparent is that, while Galen’s humours may no longer hold sway in the scientific realm, the Hellenic wisdom from Apollo’s temple that prescribes, “Everything in Moderation,” is as true today as it was two thousand years ago.

According to Michael and Sophie Coe, in their exhaustively well-researched book, The True History of Chocolate, feelings have been mixed about the legitimacy of chocolate as a health food for a long time. The Aztecs, who did not discover or invent the cacao seed and its most valued product, but were controlling the product across its empire with an iron fist, did not view chocolate as a panacea like some Europeans came to do. For the Aztecs, the chocolate drink, as it was consumed then, was taken chiefly as a preferable option to wine – drunkenness being hugely frowned upon (Coe: 75). There were some supposed benefits, that were reported by the Spanish mendicant friars, including increased “success with women” (Coe: 96), and as a cooling drink that could be taken before hard labour to avoid overheating (Coe: 123). But there were also warnings against chocolate, with a myth purporting that chocolate had made Aztecs fat and weak, distancing them from their superior forebears (Coe: 77). In Europe, chocolate arrived as a medicine (but Coe notes, “it soon became a medicine that was appreciated for its taste, its filling nature, and its stimulation, 126). However, the guise under which it came, the now utterly refuted Galenic humoral system, makes its supposed benefits interesting but not pertinent to this discussion. To sum up briefly, chocolate was claimed to benefit a host of ailments including: angina, constipation, dysentery, dyspepsia, kidney disease, liver disease, breast and stomach illness, asthenia, indigestion, fatigue, gout, haemorrhoids, erectile dysfunction, and the list goes on.1 It was not until modern medical research took root in the 19th century that false claims started to become harder to make (though they have never been completely extinguished).

So what claims can be made about chocolate? Unfortunately, because chocolate in the United States only has to be 10% or more made from cacao, very little can be said uniformly about chocolate.2 So it is important to clarify that the only chocolates that can be said to have possible health benefits (at least benefits that derive from the cacao) must be those produced with a significant cacao content. Much has been said recently about the health benefits of dark chocolate, some of it true, some of it exaggerated, and some of it quite misleading. If one googles, “dark chocolate health,” the vast majority of articles one will find will boast of the “superfood” qualities of high cacao content chocolate or of the benefits of adding raw powdered cacao as a supplement to one’s diet.3 The nutritional properties of cacao most touted are its antioxidants – polyphenols and flavonoids – with claims that they are good for cardiovascular health, protection from disease, anticancer properties, lower cholesterol, cognitive health, and lower blood pressure.4 Antioxidants has become a “buzzword” in the health community, especially the health selling community, and so anything that can be provably claimed to contain antioxidants and can also be produced and sold will appear in advertising before long. However, scientific research results have not proved as exciting as the claims of fitness and holistic-living “experts.” The antioxidant immunity boost from chocolate has showed to be extremely short-lived in humans5 and studies have revealed, like that of red wine’s supposed health benefits, that the amount of chocolate (or wine) that would need to be consumed to enjoy the rewards from the antioxidants contained would be such an enormous amount that the damage caused by the fat and sugar (or alcohol) would far outweigh the goodness done.6 Thus, the health benefits of chocolate, if any, must be attainable from a small amount, as its fat content is so high.

So if the antioxidants in chocolate are too small in number, are there any other benefits to eating dark chocolate? In short, yes. Small amounts of very dark chocolate, approximately 85% cocoa content, do boast three important nutrients that, while less glamorous than immortality-inducing antioxidants, are incredibly important to human health. High cacao content chocolate boasts impressive amounts of fibre, iron, and magnesium. While the numbers are not uniform brand to brand, a comparison of eight brands at a Somerville, Massachusetts convenience store (Perugina, Green and Blacks, Jelina, Scharffen Berger, Newman’s Own, Lindt, Chocolove, and Divine) showed enough correlation to warrant discussion. The average fibre content from the eight brands darkest products (ranging from 72%-85%) was 19% of a person’s recommended daily amount; for iron it was 27.5%. Magnesium is generally not listed on FDA required packaging and so product to product this number is hard to acquire. However, Humana Press’s comprehensive compendium, Chocolate in Health and Nutrition, is not vague when it comes to chocolates magnesium content claiming, “Chocolate has one of the highest magnesium levels reported of all foods.” (Watson 430) Are these facts about chocolate’s nutritional profile important? Possibly. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service claims that 57% of Americans do not have enough magnesium in their diet; it also claims, more dramatically, that 92% of Americans do not get sufficient fibre in their diet.7 Magnesium deficiency is not trivial. The American National Institutes of Health claims:

“Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. It has been recognised as a cofactor for more than 300 enzymatic reactions, where it is crucial for adenosine triphosphate (ATP) metabolism. Magnesium is required for DNA and RNA synthesis, reproduction, and protein synthesis. Moreover, magnesium is essential for the regulation of muscular contraction, blood pressure, insulin metabolism, cardiac excitability, vasomotor tone, nerve transmission and neuromuscular conduction. Imbalances in magnesium status—primarily hypomagnesemia as it is seen more common than hypermagnesemia—might result in unwanted neuromuscular, cardiac or nervous disorders. Based on magnesium’s many functions within the human body, it plays an important role in prevention and treatment of many diseases. Low levels of magnesium have been associated with a number of chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular disease (e.g., stroke), migraine headaches, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”8

 

For anyone living in America, sadly, these diseases and afflictions are not unfamiliar. Fiber deficiency too poses health risk with the Harvard School of Public Health claiming, “Fiber appears to reduce the risk of developing various conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, diverticular disease, and constipation.”9 Iron deficiency is not, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, a seriously prevalent issue among Americans with 89.5% getting enough in their diet. Although the risks associated with iron deficiency, for one in ten Americans,

“can delay normal infant motor function (normal activity and movement) or mental function (normal thinking and processing skills… can increase risk for small or early (preterm) babies. Small or early babies are more likely to have health problems or die in the first year of life than infants who are born full term and are not small, … cause fatigue that impairs the ability to do physical work in adults. Iron deficiency may also affect memory or other mental function in teens.”10

Iron deficiency is not a huge issue at the moment, but with the amount of meat being consumed in the American diet coming under attack, alternative sources of iron might be important to a new generation of health and environmentally conscious consumers looking to eat considerably less meat, and with it the iron it provides.

The number not yet mentioned, but most important when discussing the possible benefits or dangers of high cacao content chocolate is that of the fat, and especially saturated fat, content. The average saturated fat content from a single serving of one the eight brands mentioned previously is 58% of the recommended daily amount, according to the FDA packaging. This number is astronomically high. The dangers of saturated have been widely reported for many decades10 but recently there has been contention within the medical community. The British Medical Journal posted a controversial article in 2017 claiming “Saturated fat does not clog the arteries… Despite popular belief among doctors and the public, the conceptual model of dietary saturated fat clogging a pipe is just plain wrong.”13 The article came under fire, not for necessarily being outright wrong, but for being misleading.14 Fat is still something that should be monitored, whatever the type is being consumed. So, unlike a food source like a kiwi, which boasts enormous health benefits and can be added to any diet with no known drawbacks (unless one is allergic), chocolate can only be effectively employed as a source of nutrients to a diet low in fat. For many this is bad news. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service reports that only 40% of Americans are staying within the guidelines of consuming 10% or less of their calories from saturated fat.15 Ultimately, this means for a large section of society the only way to employ dark chocolate as a health food is if they restructure their diet to include significantly less saturated fats.

So, if it can be argued that a small amount of high quality dark chocolate can be employed as a nutritious source of food to an already health conscious individual, what could this man for the industry today? One positive effect that has started to occur is that people’s dissatisfaction with the amount of sugar in their diet has caused producers to start making chocolate with much higher cacao content. With cacao content coming under focus, the origin, quality, and ethical standards in production of the cacao have come out of the shadows for mainstream consumers to take a better appreciation of the politics behind what they put in their bodies. Chocolate has a dark past that unfortunately it has not completely shed. But with cacao becoming the star of the show for many selective buyers, attention is increasing, albeit too slowly, to cacaos often third-world origins and the ethics of production in countries like Ghana and The Ivory Coast. Unfortunately, healthy (or at least healthier) chocolate does not mean ethical chocolate. Lindt is a brand that has not exonerated itself with total transparency after accusations of turning a blind eye to the unethical means of production of its chocolate. Yet its 85% bar is a favourite among fitness enthusiasts for its nutritional content and great flavour.16

What is exciting is the recent explosion of craft chocolate in the United States and beyond. Craft chocolatiers are typically willing to pay more for their beans, and as Dr Martin of Harvard University has written, “buyers must pay more for cacao, uncertified and certified. Both practically and morally, consistent cacao farmer poverty in an industry replete with wealth is unacceptable.”17 Craft chocolate is also inherently made from higher quality ingredients, and with an emphasis on a robust amount of cacao per bar. An often reliably healthier option than mass-produced chocolate. The craft chocolate market is still small and producers have for the most part stayed clear of buying beans from West Africa, where the bulk of ethical concerns lie. However, increase in chocolate consumption is rising rapidly according to an article publish recently in Vox, “Chocolate retail sales in the US have risen from $14.2 billion in 2007 to $18.9 billion in 2017, the market research group Euromonitor International found, at a time when candy sales overall have been waning.”18 If demand for craft chocolate increases, perhaps a future where farmers are able to choose to sell their beans to craft chocolatiers over mass-producing corporations is possible.

 

 

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. 1996. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson.

Watson, RR, Preedy, VR & Zibadi, S 2013, Chocolate in health and nutrition. Humana Press Inc. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-61779-803-0

Arab-Islamic Civilization and Sugar: Laying the Foundation of Modern Sweets and World Food Culture

The Arab-Islamic Civilization spread the cultivation and consumption of sugar, changing worldwide habits and trends in food culture and creations to the modern day.  Straddling three continents, Islamic empires in the medieval era allowed an intermingling of cultures and traditions, from East to West. “The Arab expansion westward marked a turning point in the European experience of sugar…the Arabs introduced sugar cane, its cultivation, the art of sugar making, and a taste for this different kind of sweetness.” (Mintz, 23) It would change the course of history and affect lands and peoples much far away; laying the foundations of large scale plantations that would eventually be established in the Americas and Caribbean Islands.

In a few centuries, sugar went from being a scarce spice and medicine, to a widely consumed, daily staple product of people of all economic standing, all over the world. The crystallization of sugar first started in India and was used in Persia by the sixth century. After the rise of Islam, the Arabs entered Persia and were introduced to the age-old process of sugar produced from cane, adopting and further developing these techniques.  They planted sugar-cane in plantations across their empires, in Mesopotamia, the Levant, Egypt, North Africa, Al-Andalus (Spain and Portugal), and by the tenth century the Arabs were growing the crop in Sicily, all the while perfecting the process of refining it in sugar mills. (Salloum, 4)

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 10.57.30 PM

Picture 1: Map Showing Sugar Cultivation by Muslims

In the lands of the Mediterranean, Arabs developed agriculture and introduced new crops to the land, such as, orange, lemon, banana, saffron, fig, date trees, and most importantly, sugar cane. Wherever the Arabs went, they brought sugar, the product and technology of its production with them, to the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily, Crete and Malta. (Mintz, 25) During the Muslim rule in Spain, there was numerous contributions of irrigation, soil management, and scholarly efforts in farming innovation. (Hughes, 68) These plants were used not only in agriculture, but for pharmacy, gardens, luxury trade, and arts.

For nearly eight centuries, under her (Muslim) rulers, Spain set to all of Europe a shining example of a civilized and enlightened State.  Her fertile provinces, rendered doubly prolific by the industry and engineering skill of her conquerors, bore fruit an hundredfold.  Cities innumerable sprang up in the rich valleys of the Guadalquivir and the Guadiana, whose names, and names only, still commemorate the vanished glories of their past. (Lane-Poole, vii)

Irrigation and agricultural practices established then has had a lasting impact. “The knowledge, handwork, commodities, and luxuries of the East were brought by caravans to the farther East, and came by shipping from the Levant to the Mediterranean ports of Spain.  Seeds and plants were thus transported; thus, came rice and cotton and the sugar-cane”.  (Coppee, 397) Sugar was cultivated as far north as Castellon, which is probably the most northerly point of its commercial cultivation. To the south, it was grown in Arabia Felix, Abyssinia, and the islands and the mainland of East Africa from the ninth century.  From Arabia Felix, or directly from Oman, the plant was brought to Zanzibar, where it was reported the finest sugar came.  From Zanzibar, the plant could have been taken to Madagascar.  (Watson, 30)

Sugar was at first regarded an important spice and medicinal component and was consumed in large quantities in the Middle East.  It was used by physicians from India to Spain, slowly entering European medical practice via Arab Pharmacology.  (Mintz, 80) As early as the eleventh century a treatise on sugar was written by a Baghdadi doctor. (Watson, 27) In addition to the medicinal component, Arabs had a rich development of recipes and cuisine that strongly featured sugar at the time of its movement to Europe. In the Medieval Islamic world, sugar enriched many dishes: sour foods, fish, meats, and stews. Of course, pastries and jams especially were a “paradise of sugar”, using syrups made of white sugar and crystals of colored sugar.  Specific sweets using sugar such as stuffed cannoli, squash jam, caramelized semolina, jelly, among others. In Europe, the names of a number of several medieval dishes reveal their Arab origin. (Zaouali, 44)

“The decades that followed the Moors’ conquest of the Iberian Peninsula brought in a dominant Arab influence—in culture, food, and drink, but especially in the introduction of sugarcane-based sweet treats… And there the foundation was laid for sugar-cane based sweet treats of the world as well…In the history of sweet treats, few “events” had the impact on Western civilizations as did the near-800-year occupation of the Iberian Peninsula by Muslim peoples.   Their main sweet treat legacy—sugarcane” (Roufs, 304)

There was a further East to West transmission of food culture as well.  Figures such as Ziryab, credited with the renewal of the culinary arts in Spain and Europe.  In the ninth century, he moved from Abbasid Baghdad to the ruler’s court in Cordoba.  He led a renewal of culinary understanding and elegance, introducing low tables, tablecloths, cups made from glass, and the succession of courses in a definite order, ending with a sweet dessert. (Zaouali, 41).

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Picture 2: Fourteenth century manuscript document from Ibn al-Bitar’s “Book of Simples” depicting sugar cane. 

The dispersal of Arab inspired sweets left a mark especially on Southern Europe, Spain, Portugal, and Sicily; also transmitted to the Americas with later conquests of the Spanish and Portuguese empires.  Sweet dishes found in Mexico and Latin America such Bunuelos, Alfajores, and Arroz con Leche, were inherited from the medieval Arab chefs in Damascus and Baghdad.  (Salloum, 8) The Arab legacy on sweet foods remains in modern day commodities, many deriving their name directly from the Arabic language. The word ‘Candy’ comes from the Arabic qandi, stemming from the Sanskrit khanda (piece of sugar).  Sherbet, Syrup and Sorbet derive from the Arabic word shariba or sharab (to drink).  The ubiquitous drinks Soda Suwwad (saltwort), Coffee (qahwa), and Alcohol are all derived from Arabic.  Other food term that originate from Arabic, include fruits and vegetables such as Lemon, Lime, Orange, Shaddock, Apricot, Artichoke, Spinach, as well as spices such as Sumac, Saffron, Carob, Caraway, and Tamarind. Rice and pasta were also transmitted to Europe via the Arabs (Watson, 23). Marzipan and sugar decorations were documented in the Middle East centuries before its appearance in Europe, especially in festive times such as Ramadan. (Mintz, 88).

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 11.19.40 PM.png Continue reading Arab-Islamic Civilization and Sugar: Laying the Foundation of Modern Sweets and World Food Culture

Hotel Chocolat: An Ethnographic Analysis

When it comes to bean-to-bar chocolate companies, Hotel Chocolat is certainly one of the most distinguished. The Hotel Chocolat website offers a plethora of information about the brand, but what seems to stand out the most is that this company is not simply a maker of fine chocolate. This company is an architect of experiences, and these experiences are all founded in the company’s commitment to growing its own cocoa on the island of St. Lucia. Even the logo on the website reads “Hotel Chocolat British Cocoa Grower”. The experiences that this carefully grown cocoa sponsors range from entry to the Hotel Chocolat “Club”, a subscription chocolate service starting at about 10 British pounds per month, to private parties and reservations at their restaurants and “cocoa bar cafes”, to a stay at their resort in Saint Lucia. These amenities are extensions of the original craft confections of Hotel Chocolat, bringing the idea of chocolate tourism into a quite literal sense. Loyal customers of Hotel Chocolat might choose to follow the company across the globe for an incredible, one-of-a-kind experience, all aimed at an experience in which you can “experience cocoa like never before” (Hotel Chocolat, 2017).

While this company seems to have an incredibly nuanced grasp of the importance of changing the agricultural traditions surrounding the production of chocolate, elite model of quality assurance, and thorough commitment to customer accountability, it appears to be perpetrating certain chronic illnesses of the chocolate industry as well. Certain aspects of the Hotel Chocolat’s agricultural model are troublesome, namely in certain decisions that the company made in regards to their ethics policy, as well as the very location where they decided to set up shop. Additionally, Hotel Chocolat seems to cater to an elite, establishing a binary of fine chocolate consumers and cocoa producers that unfortunately does little to update the status quo of cacao that has been established over centuries. In the following post, I will first examine the rise of Hotel Chocolat in historical context, examine the strengths and weaknesses of the company, and recommend certain changes that might bring Hotel Chocolat closer to what they describe their goals to be.

First of all, it is crucial to begin with a thorough understanding of the historical trajectory of Hotel Chocolat. While the company began selling chocolates online in 1993, the first storefront opened in 2004, founded by Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris, two entrepreneurs set on “making chocolate exciting again” (Hotel Chocolat, 2017). Taking a step back, it is crucial to ask what was happening with chocolate at this point in time, and what had gotten it there. Why was there a need to make chocolate exciting again? In colonial Europe, when chocolate was first brought to the Europeans, it was an expensive and special luxury, one that only the ruling class could afford. As Coe and Coe describe it, “it had been an elite drink among the Mesoamericans, and it would stay that way among the white-skinned, perfumed, bewigged, overdressed royalty and nobility of Europe” (Chapter 5). England, uniquely, was a more entrepreneurial society, and therefore shopkeepers and businessmen were able to pedal their wares to the larger population, although it was still the mostly upper class and well to do that could afford chocolate in the beginning (Coe and Coe, Chapter 5).  Thus, even in its earliest stages, chocolate in England was diverging from its traditional role as sumptuous luxury. As Professor Martin and her colleague Sempak explain, by the 1800s, chocolate was for everyone, due to a plethora of revamped factors which had maximized efficiency of the treat for mass production (49). One of these newly cheapened factors was of course, sugar, which by 1900 provided “1/5 of calories in an English diet”(Mintz 6). While the price of sugar has certainly fluctuated over time, as exemplified by Figure 1, in 2004, the year of Hotel Chocolat’s birth, the price of sugar was extremely low, and this was not a fact that was wasted on the company’s founders.

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Figure 1

 

In their story, the company explains that “as sugar prices have dropped, British chocolate has focused increasingly on sweetness… Today sugar is 20 times cheaper than cocoa”, and later they even explain that their motto is “More Cocoa, Less Sugar.” With this in mind, it seems that perhaps Hotel Chocolat, in its founding, was not only intent on creating a high quality brand, but also moving back to the original vision of chocolate as a food for the elite. In it’s mission statement, Hotel Chocolat describes sugar as “cheap”, citing its qualities of being “sweet”, and “flavor-dulling”, and contrast this image with their abundant use of cocoa, which they describe as “nuanced”, and “fine”. This distinction between simple and complex, basic and fine, seems to be creating a strict binary. There is mass-produced chocolate for the masses, and then there is Hotel Chocolat, for the higher class individual, in need of an elevated experience.

Additionally, as mentioned before, the company’s commitment to growing its’ own cocoa for its chocolate, restaurants, cafes, and hotel is the backbone of what makes Hotel Chocolat unique. The company owns a plantation in St. Lucia, and is proud of a nuanced “Ethical Engagement” program by which they procure all of their cocoa—their answer to an inability to participate in Direct Trade, which they explain on their website that they are ineligible for (Hotel Chocolate 2017). The company bought the Rabot Plantation is St. Lucia in 2006, and has been growing their own cacao and working with farmers on the island ever since then (Hotel Chocolat 2017). In historical context, this was an incredibly business savvy method. As Martin and Sempak explain, the 1990s were wrought with revelations of the worst forms of child labor, and individuals searching for ways to get their chocolate fix without exploiting vulnerable populations (51). Therefore, by taking production into their own hands, Hotel Chocolate was able to make certain that certain exploitations were not occurring, and offer their clientele a clear conscience in consumption.

Since the purchase of this plantation, the company has continued to thrive. Along with the hotel, the company has 92 cafes, 2 restaurants, and a seemingly endless selection of unique, handcrafted chocolates. As the Telegraph reported last year, Hotel Chocolat went public on the London stock exchange at a value of 150 million pounds (Yeomans and Chan).

Hotel Chocolat Goes Public

With this in mind, it is now possible to take a look at the ethical implications of the company. One thing that is truly incredible is Hotel Chocolat’s “Engaged Ethics” model (EE). The ultimate goal of EE is to “make life as a cocoa farmer truly sustainable”. Thus, this is a many-layered initiative. One of the staples of EE is the Hotel Chocolate Cocoa Growers Programme of Engaged Ethics (HCCAPEE). Within it, farmers are guaranteed a premium price all of a farmers harvested “wet” cocoa, which the company specifically prefers over the dry, fermented product, preferring to complete that step themselves in-house. Hotel Chocolat explains that prior to this program, St. Lucian farmers were subjected to exploitive prices from middlemen and untrustworthy vendors. Under HCCAPEE, a fixed price above fair trade, which is $.75 kg/wet and $1.88/kg dry, which is 28 cents hire than the world trade price.   Other perks of the program are access to Hotel Chocolat’s fine quality seedlings, quick turnaround for payday, easy drop off sites, fair measurements, and a local consultant who helps with the process. Membership is free to all cocoa farmers on the island. What is one of the most striking aspects of this program is the fact that the company guarantees to pay a fixed price for all cocoa produced by a farmer, giving the farmer security in income even if there is an issue with the season’s harvest. Additionally, in its business model, Hotel Chocolat cites an even greater goal, which is positively impacting the entire agricultural sector of St. Lucia. Hotel Chocolat explains a greater goal “to use knowledge and skills to help formulate sound agricultural policies and laws; to challenge and correct untrue statements about the agricultural industry and to foster dialogue among agriculturists, other professionals, landowners, and the public regarding agricultural policies” (Hotel Chocolat 2017). With nearly 168 cocoa farmers now taking part in the program, it seems that Hotel Chocolat is indeed working towards a more ethical future for the agricultural future of St. Lucia (Hotel Chocolat 2017).

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St. Lucia and the Piton Mountains. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

However, some distinctly important issues emerge on closer analysis of the Hotel Chocolat model. First of all, as mentioned previously, the company does place a premium on using trope that separates low quality chocolate from high quality, implying a social class divide along with it. Words like “luxury,” “private,” “distinctive,” “fine,” and more dominate the language on the company website, making it clear that this chocolate is of the highest caliber. As Robertson explains, chocolate companies have historically focused marketing to a “refined” taste palette, suggesting that a high quality of chocolate is meant for a high class individual (26). For example, in a Rowntree marketing campaign, advertisements for Black Magic were utilized high-class women, emphasizing luxury and expense. When Rowntree advertised their lower cocoa content chocolate, the Dairy Box, they used words that emphasized cheapness and accessibility (27). This is practically identical to the binary set up by Hotel Chocolat in its description of their product. Thus, it seems that Hotel Chocolat is perpetuating a chocolate class distinction, one of the more serious issues that the chocolate industry faces today.

Additionally, while the HCCAPEE program is undoubtedly doing some fantastic things, there are certain critiques to be found there as well. One of the most glaring issues to me comes from the fact that the company asks its farmers to sell their cocoa to them “wet” rather than “dry”. This means that the farmers are not being trained by Hotel Chocolat in the artisanship of fermentation, and are thus kept at a level of crude labor, with little opportunity for growth. Hotel Chocolat defends itself, stating that buying it wet allows the farmers to do less work and receive the same payday, and even claims that if a farmer is interested in fermentation, Hotel Chocolat will send an inspector to their facility. However, there is no evidence that any farmers partake in this option. Therefore, farmers in the Hotel Chocolat system stay at just that- farmers. Something that immediately comes to mind is Berlan’s concept of “unfree” labor. Berlan explains that in Ghana, farmers and their children have “varying degrees of agency over their lives,” and that this is what sometimes results in individuals having no other choice but to seek out labor on cocoa farms (1094-1095). Hotel Chocolat themselves explains that St. Lucia’s cocoa industry was riddled with poverty, and this historical context makes it difficult to believe that farmers on the island had options besides participating in the HCCAPPEE program.

The last critique I offer looks at HCCAPEE’s policy of only allowing cocoa farmer’s to experience the benefits of the program. As the CIA’s world fact book presents, St. Lucia’s agricultural industry is largely based off of bananas, with this commodity making up 41% of the country’s exports (CIA 2017). If Hotel Chocolat were truly committed, as they claim to be, to improving the agricultural situation of St. Lucia, then they would be hard pressed to find a better medium than by including the banana farmer’s in their program.

After studying the company, I feel that in order to truly meet its goals, several key changes should be put into action. First of all, the distinction between cheap and expensive should be diminished. By perpetuating an elitist mindset with chocolate, they take away from their commitment to incredible chocolate, and instead, create a vision that lacks diversity. As chocolate connoisseur Chloe explains, “chocolate is like music or friends, each person must make his own opinion and those opinion evolve” (Williams and Eber 146). With this in mind, I think that Hotel Chocolat should focus more on taste preferences between the individual, rather than the exclusivity of the chocolate itself. An integration of testimonials from their own workers in St. Lucia would go a long way to show that Hotel Chocolat is not about where you come from, or what you do, but rather, the kind of chocolate you love. Second, I would be thrilled to see some sort of chocolate academy launched on the Rabot Plantation. If Hotel Chocolat committed itself to providing farmers with unique, valuable skills, then farmers may have more autonomy over their own lives, which would be a fabulous improvement from the current situation. Lastly, I think that Hotel Chocolat needs to actively recruit banana farmers to diversify their farms with the company’s cocoa seedlings. This would provide support to the St. Lucian agricultural sector, and give Hotel Chocolat an even greater opportunity to make an impact, all while crafting delicious chocolate.

In ending, Hotel Chocolat’s Engaged Ethics program is a fabulous step in the right direction for the future of ethical chocolate making, and certain tweaks could make it an even more efficient initiative.

 

References:

Armstrong, Ashley. “Hotel Chocolat Enjoys a Sweet Start after IPO.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 12 July 2016. Web. 05 May 2017.

Berlan, Amanda. “Social Sustainability in Agriculture: An Anthropological Perspective on Child Labour in Cocoa Production in Ghana.” The Journal of Development Studies 49.8 (2013): 1088-100. Print.

“Chocolate Gifts & Luxury Presents.” Hotel Chocolat – Luxury Chocolates and Gifts. Hotel Chocolat, 2017. Web. 04 May 2017.

CIA. “The World Factbook St. Lucia.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 01 Apr. 2016. Web. 05 May 2017.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2013. Print.

Martin, Carla D and Sampeck, Kathryn E (2015) The bitter and sweet of chocolate in Europe. SOCIO.HU, 2015 (No. 3). pp. 37-60.

Robertson, Emma. (2009) Chocolate, women and empire: A social and cultural history. Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press.

Williams, Pamela Sue., and Jim Eber. Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate. Vancouver, BC: Wilmor Corporation, 2012. Print.

Sacred Cenotes: Cacao in the Yucatán

There is no doubt that cacao was highly valued in Mayan culture, intertwined with economics, culture, religion, and ritual.  Cacao was abundant and valuable, and the numerous cacao-producing regions on the coast were hubs for trade.  The Yucatán, on the other hand, does not have an environment suitable for cacao trees.  Yet despite this, the Yucatec Maya revered cacao so much that they found a way to overcome their climate’s cacao-growing challenges and cultivate it in sinkholes called cenotes (Coe and Coe 46).   These sinkholes could sustain a small number of trees, but not nearly as many as the large plantations to the south, which suggests that profit was not a motivating factor.  The motivation for cultivation of cacao in cenotes in the Yucatán stems from prestige and status as well as the sacred importance of cacao.

There were a number of rich cacao growing region in the pre-Conquest era, including the Chontalpa, the Pacific coastal plain of Chiapas and Guatemala, and Boca Costa (Coe and Coe 45).  The regions had sufficient rainfall and nutrient rich soil, enabling them to sustain significant cacao plantations.  The Yucatán, on the other hand, has a dry climate and rocky soils, and as a limestone plain with virtually no rivers, it has typically not been deemed suitable for cacao cultivation (Gomez-Pompa 250).  However, scattered in this region are humid cenotes which the Maya put to their chocolate-growing benefit.  Cenotes are sinkholes filled with water and soil, which create a humid ecosystem where cacao can grow naturally.  Because they are saturated, the typical challenges of the lack of rainfall and the dry season can be overcome (Gomez-Pompa 250-251).  Though these cenotes had the right environment, they were not on the size scale to run plantations.  To put things in perspective, a Kuyul sinkhole where cacao was found has a depth of 40m and a diameter of 240m, which can be visualized in the image below (Gomez-Pompa 251-252).  According to Spanish sources, they were the private property of wealthy lineages (Coe and Coe 46).  Cultivation of these small groves of cacao only produced a little fruit, unlike large plantations, so monetary gain was likely not the motivating factor for this small-scale cultivation.

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The cultivation of cacao in cenotes was motivated by the its representation as a status symbol for the wealthy class.  Cacao had a long history of ties to economics and high social status, given its use as a currency, a noble drink, and a ritualistic offering.  Cacao has been discovered in the tombs of prominent rulers, accompanying other luxurious items in funerary tradition (Coe and Coe 35).  The cacao tree was also used to depict a Mayan ruler’s mother, Lady Zac-Kuk, at the ruler’s burial site, associating the royal lineage with the cacao tree (Lecture 2/1).  Given this history, it makes sense that cacao itself was an important indicator of wealth and power for the Maya.  For the families that owned the cenotes, the cultivation of cacao in their groves represented their upper socioeconomic status.  The prestige that is associated with cacao justifies its use in the cenotes of the Yucatán.

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Lady Zac-Kuk depicted with a tree with cacao pods (Lecture 2/1)

Beyond being a status symbol, cultivation of cacao in cenotes also evidences the spiritual importance of cacao.  A painted capstone from the Temple of the Owls in Chichen Itza, which is shown below, depicts the spiritual significance of cacao and the cenote.  In this artifact, the Maya god Kauil, who is the lord of sustenance and of royal descent (Coe and Coe 46), stands on the mouth of a serpent while carrying a plate with offerings.  The presence of the god Kauil, given his connection to royal descent, points to the association between the cacao and cenote and the noble and powerful lineages (Gomez-Pompa 253), supporting the notion that the cenotes were a symbol of wealth and power.  In the capstone, as Simon Martin describes, Kauil emerges from the underworld, which is depicted as a cenote, in pursuit of the heavens above (174).  Cacao pods hang as if naturally growing from both the heavens and the underworld.  The god’s expression of “rescuing” the seeds from the cenote and their “gifting to heaven and earth” in this scene depict the significance of the spiritual value of cacao (Martin 175).  Beyond being a status symbol, cultivation of cacao in cenotes also indicates the spiritual importance of cacao, which is demonstrated by the capstone from the Temple of the Owls.

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The motivation for cultivation of cacao in cenotes in the Yucatán stems from prestige and status as well as the sacred importance of cacao.  Cacao is deeply intertwined with wealth and social status in Maya culture, and the use of cenotes is no exception.  Despite the dry and rocky conditions in the Yucatán, the Maya discovered and practiced a cultivation of cacao in cenotes to demonstrate their wealth and to uphold the sacred importance of cacao.  The effects of these practices are still with us today, as wild cacao trees continue to grow in cenotes, and chocolate beverages are consumed during contemporary celebrations.

Works Cited

Coe, Sophie D., Michael D. Coe, and Ryan J. Huxtable. The true history of chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Gómez-Pompa, Arturo, José Salvador Flores, and Mario Aliphat Fernández. “The sacred cacao groves of the Maya.” Latin american antiquity (1990): 247-257.

Martin, Carla. “Lecture 2/1: Mesoamerica and the “food of the gods”.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. 1 February 2017. Lecture.

Martin, Simon. “Cacao in ancient Maya religion: first fruit from the maize tree and other tales from the underworld.” Chocolate in Mesoamerica: a cultural history of cacao (2006): 154-183.

Cocoa and Chaos in Cote d’Ivoire

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Image 1: A shelter for internally displaced persons during the Ivorian  civil war (Creative Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Introduction

Cocoa has been a major source of wealth as well as one of the major causes of chaos in Africa. The conflict over cocoa resources disrupted the larger political struggle; it created ethnic and socio-economic instability, which became the basis of civil war in countries like Cote d’Ivoire. In 1960, Cote d’Ivoire (or Ivory Coast) won its full independence from France and Félix Houphouët-Boigny became the first president of the independent country. The new Ivorian president welcomed immigrants and made Ivorian land freely available to those who wanted to grow coffee and cocoa. In this decision lies the secret of the economic growth of Cote d’Ivoire and the causes of its downfall.

This essay will argue that literature has tended to focus more on the trade and market issues related to cocoa instead of focusing on dynamics that are largely relevant to the local African context, such as violent political conflicts caused by cocoa farming. Cocoa producing countries in Africa have suffered several outbreaks of conflict, especially in Cote d’Ivoire between 2002 and 2011 which resulted in the death of 3,000 people [1], yet the role played by these countries in the global chocolate industry is little known. Furthermore, numerous organizations have been established to regulate the trade of cocoa and its distribution; yet nothing has been done to resolve or even advocate the political massacre caused by cocoa farming in African countries. This essay will provide a deep investigation into violent political conflict caused by cocoa farming in African countries by looking at the example of Cote d’Ivoire. Historical complexity and the current state of conflict will be examined. Finally, this essay will conclude with recommendations for contemporary cocoa industry and regulatory organizations on how to tackle such conflict. 

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Image 2: Culture du Manioc – Côte d’Ivoire (Public Domain)

History of Cocoa and Chaos in Cote d’Ivoire

It was late 19th century when Africa began producing cocoa on a significant scale. The first recorded large-scale production was in the 1880’s from Portuguese plantations on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe [2]. As noted by the 2004 Anti-Slavery report, these cocoa plantations run by French colonists became infamous for using slaves, despite slavery having been officially abolished in 1875. Between 1888 and 1908, over 67,000 people from the African mainland were shipped to Sao Tome and Principe islands.The low oil and rubber prices in Cote d’Ivoire encouraged people to cultivate cocoa and the proper cultivation began by 1890’s [3].

The history of cocoa and related violence goes back to 1900’s with French authorities “corrupting local chiefs, evicting communities from forests in the south and forcibly displacing tens of thousands of people, mainly from the north and from Burkina Faso to work on the cocoa plantations”[4]as claimed by the Global Witness report. The report also claims that small farmers protested against the higher cocoa prices paid to the French plantation owners. During this period of time, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, a cocoa farmer himself formed an agricultural union called Syndicat Agricole Africain (SAA) in 1944 and was elected as Côte d’Ivoire’s representative to the French parliament. After spending two years in French parliament, Boigny was able to secure a law in 1946 ending forced labor in Cote d’Ivoire . The ban on forced labor happened at the same time as the cocoa prices were high on the world market. This resulted in large portion of population moving to the  forested area of Cote d’Ivoire to cultivate cocoa. Due to his extreme popularity, Boigny was elected as first president of independent Cote d’Ivoire in 1960.

Under the administration of President Boigny, hundreds of thousands of immigrants came in search of land to cultivate cocoa. As Orla Ryan recalls in her book, Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa, some came from Boigny’s own ethnic group, the Baoule. A large portion of farmers came from Northern Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Mali. For years, the indigenous tribe, Bete, welcomed and worked alongside migrants and foreigners from Burkina Faso and Mali to cultivate cocoa. Many Ivorians moved to big cities to be part of the new urban economy. They sell or rented their lands to the foreigners who wanted to farm them and plant cocoa. With thousands of cocoa farmers, Cote d’Ivoire produced some 67 000 tons to 880 000 tons of cocoa from 1960 and 1989, which made it world’s largest producer of cocoa[5]. However, the economic growth of the country was also the beginning of the hostile  relationship between host and migrant populations.

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Map 1: Cocoa in Côte d’Ivoire by Global Witness Report

The country accounted for around 40% of world cocoa production and cocoa became the economic resource of the country, representing on average 35% of the total value of Ivorians exports, worth around $1.4 billion. [6] To make country open to foreigners, President Boigny issues a statement saying, “The land belongs to he who cultivates it”[7]. This led to the ownership of big portion of land by immigrant population. However, the world price of cocoa was falling which created an atmosphere where foreigners were not welcome in Cote d’Ivoire anymore.

Adding to the problem, in 1933, after 33 years in power, President Boigny died and as did his economic policies. A long government policy to welcome foreigners and to give land to those who want to cultivate cocoa was changed when Laurent Gbagbo, from Bete tribe, was elected as the president. Confronted with a crumbling economy, Gbagbo used his presidency to reinvigorate the Ivorian citizenship rights, attempting to build a campaign by arousing Ivorian patriotism and nationalism. The newly elected president declared that the land given to the settlers under President Boigny cannot be claimed by them and should be returned to the native Ivorian owners.

As Mitchell writes in his paper, Rethinking the Migration-Conflict Nexus: Insights from Côte d‟Ivoire and Ghanathis policy of Gbagbo was central to the conflict and was deeply embedded in the rise and fall of the country’s cocoa sector.Much of the cultivated land was allocated to the foreigners at the time, which made it almost impossible for them to leave their crops. These foreigners became the victims for the financial crisis encountered by the native Ivorians and came under extreme pressure to leave the country. In 1990, non- Ivorians lost their right to vote thus deprived of their right to claim any land.

The Chaos

In 1998, law was passed declaring that only people of Ivorians nationality could own rural land. The law posed several problems for the thousands of immigrants who had cultivated and owned the cocoa crops for generations. The land purchased under President Boigny was rather informal which was often affirmed through handshakes or poorly written documents. Now in legal terms, such informal agreements meant nothing. Riots took place between the foreigners and natives in the west of the country, where most of cocoa was cultivated. The operation to seize land from the foreigners was launched, fueling violent tension between the communities. For the next decade, Cote d’Ivoire was split into two parts: the rebels controlled the north, while the government controlled the south. Where once the fight was over gold and diamonds, cocoa became a weapon of war.

According to a report by United Nations Human Rights Watch, between 1,500 and 2,500 Liberians fought for the government of Côte d’Ivoire, while almost 1,000 were thought to have fought among the ranks of Ivorian rebels. [8] Human right abuses were committed by conflict over land ownership. By the end of 1999, about 15,000 Burkinabe and northern Ivorians left the country in a bloody conflict between migrants and native people.

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Image 3: Armed Ivorians next to a French Foreign Legion armored car, 2004 (Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0)

With the new nationalist concept, President Henri Konan Bédié, successor of Boigny, distinguished between “foreigners” and “true Ivorian”. The concept was incorporated into the new electoral code in 1994, which stated that candidates of the Presidency and for Deputy in the National Assembly must be Ivorians by birth, with Ivorian parentage, having neither renounced Ivorian citizenship nor taken the nationality of any other state. [9] This law was seen as a deliberate effort to prevent Bédié’s rival, Alassane Ouattara, from the presidential elections. Ouattara was Muslim and had Burkinabe origins.In excluding Ouattara from presidential elections, the northerners perceived this as a systematic discrimination. As a result of this, nearly two million Burkinabe (most of them cocoa producers) found themselves subjugated.

Economic stagnation caused by the falling prices of cocoa resulted in a coup in 1999 led by General Robert Guei who ousted President Bédié. When the presidential elections took place in 2010, after years of postponement, the country’s second civil war broke out, claiming the lives of more than 3,000 people.

Role of Cocoa

Cocoa accounts for a significant proportion of the Cote d’Ivoire government’s budget as well as the conflict. The Ivorian economy and especially the trade of cocoa lack transparency and accountability and involves significant amount of corruption. An estimated 10% of Ivorian cocoa production is now under the control of the rebels. These rebels charge indirect tax on the cocoa trade. The conflict in Cote d’Ivoire caused a sharp increase in the price of world cocoa. For example, in October 2002, after the coup attempt, the price of cocoa reached its highest level since the 1970’s and 1980’s at $2,367 per ton. [10]

According to a 2007 report by Global Witness and World Bank, some leading national cocoa institutions have contributed to the war by providing the government with “money, vehicle and weapons”[11]. As noted by the report, these contributions were made at the same time as the government forces were conducting worst human rights violations. Furthermore, government and rebel leaders in Cote d’Ivoire siphoned off millions of dollars from the cocoa industry to finance the 2002-03 civil war. According to the report, the Ivoirians government received more than $58 million from institutions and cocoa revenues, while the rebel forces pocketed about $30 million since 2004 in taxes and revenues[12]. The profits generated from the cocoa sector remain potential weapon for the conflict and little has been done to break the link between cocoa institutions and armed groups.

1024px-Flickr_-_DFID_-_UK_Department_for_International_Development_-_Displaced_Ivorians_queue_for_food_at_a_UNHCR_distribution_site_in_Liberia.jpg

Image 4: Displaced Ivorians queue for food at a UNHCR distribution site in Liberia (Creative Commons, CC BY 2.0)

Recommendations 

Following are few recommendations for cocoa industry and regulatory organizations such as United Nations:

Companies buying cocoa from Cote d’Ivoire should perform extra considerations on their purchase to demonstrate that they are not providing money that is being used in the war effort, which results in human rights violations. These companies should make their purchase more transparent by publishing the information on how the cocoa was imported from such countries. Especially, if the cocoa was purchased from the areas controlled by government or rebels, how much direct and indirect taxes were paid. These cocoa-buying institutions should also publish information on the locations of their bank accounts (as most of them have off-shore companies) and should publish annual audit reports.

Organizations such as United Nations should be more serious about this conflict. United Nations should apply sanctions on individuals responsible for sending money to promote this conflict. United Nations should hold more Peacekeeping missions in countries such as Cote d’Ivoire . An oversight of the natural resources under United Nations should also be established.

Conclusion

Cote d’Ivoire gained its independence from France in 1960 under the leadership of President Boigny. During his administration, Boigny welcomed immigrants and made Ivoirians land freely available to those who wanted to grow coffee and cocoa. Cote d’Ivoire witnessed a boom in its economy and became world’s largest cocoa producer. The production of cocoa relied on the immigrants who mostly came from Burkina Faso and Mali. To ensure labor rights, President Boigny extended their right to live and gave a decree ensuring ownership of the land they cultivated. As the cocoa prices fell around 1980s, the government replaced taxation with subsidies for the immigrants. The foreigners faced hostility from the natives. Between 2002 and 2011, Cote d’Ivoire suffered several conflicts mostly between the government and the cocoa farmers in the north. This led to the bitterly contested election in 2010, whose outcome led to the Second Ivorian Civil War. Around 3,000 people were killed, and hundreds of thousands displaced.

Numerous organizations have been established to regulate the trade of cocoa and its distribution; yet nothing has been done to resolve or even advocate the political massacre caused by cocoa farming in African countries. For the past decade, both sides in the conflict-government and rebels-have benefitted from significant corruption through cocoa trade. Companies buying cocoa from Cote d’Ivoire and such other countries should ensure that the money from cocoa trade is not fueling the conflict.

Works Cited

Primary Sources: 

Ryan, Orla. Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying for Cocoa in West Africa. London: Zed, 2011. Print.
How Cocoa Fueled the Conflict in Côte D’Ivoire (n.d.): n. pag. Global Witness, June 2007. Web. 11 May 2016. <https://www.globalwitness.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/cotedivoire.pdf&gt;.
“The Chocolate Industry.” Cocoa And Chocolate, 1765–1914 (n.d.): 65-92.The Cocoa Industry in West Africa. Anti-Slavery International. Web. 11 May 2016. <http://www.antislavery.org/includes/documents/cm_docs/2008/c/cocoa_report_2004.pdf&gt;.

 

Mitchell, Matthew I. Rethinking the Migration-Conflict Nexus: Insights from Côte D‟Ivoire and Ghana (n.d.): n. pag. Department of Political Studies Queen‟s University, 1 June 2010. Web. 11 May 2016. <https://www.cpsa-acsp.ca/papers-2010/Mitchell.pdf&gt;.

Other Sources: 

[1] “World Report 2012: Côte D’Ivoire.” Human Rights Watch. World Report, 22 Jan. 2012. Web. 11 May 2016. <https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2012/country-chapters/cote-divoire&gt;.

[2] Clarence-Smith, W.G. & Ruf, F., “Cocoa pioneer fronts: The historical determinants”, Clarence-Smith, W.G. (ed.), Cocoa Pioneer Fronts Since 1800, the role of smallholders, planters and merchants, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1996

[3] “The Chocolate Industry.” Cocoa And Chocolate, 1765–1914 (n.d.): 65-92.The Cocoa Industry in West Africa. Anti-Slavery International. Web. 11 May 2016. <http://www.antislavery.org/includes/documents/cm_docs/2008/c/cocoa_report_2004.pdf&gt;.

[4] How Cocoa Fuelled the Conflict in Côte D’Ivoire (n.d.): n. pag. Global Witness, June 2007. Web. 11 May 2016. <https://www.globalwitness.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/cotedivoire.pdf&gt;.
[5] Crook, Richard. 1997. “Winning Coalitions and Ethno-Regional Politics: The Failure of the Opposition in the 1990 and 1995 Elections in Côte d‟Ivoire.” African Affairs, 96, 215-42.
[6] Ibid

[7] Crise Foncière, crise de la ruralité et relations entre autochtones et migrants sahéliens en Côte d’Ivoire forestière, Jean-Pierre Chauveau, May 2003

 

[8]Government-allied Liberians…requested …children for training”, in Trapped between two wars: violence against civilians in western Côte d’Ivoire, Human Rights Watch, August 2003

 

[9] Crook, Richard C. 2001. “Cocoa Booms, the Legalisation of Land Relations and Politics in Côte d‟Ivoire and Ghana: Explaining Farmers Responses.” IDS Bulletin, 32(1), 35-45.

[10] How Cocoa Fuelled the Conflict in Côte D’Ivoire (n.d.): n. pag. Global Witness, June 2007. Web. 11 May 2016. <https://www.globalwitness.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/cotedivoire.pdf&gt;.

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

Lamber, Blake. “Chocolate Now Fuels War in West Africa?” ProQuest. The Christian Science Monitor, 17 July 2007. Web. 11 May 2016. <http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/405552634?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo&gt;.
WallisC, William. “CorpWatch : IVORY COAST: Cocoa Exports ‘fund’ Ivory Coast Conflict.” CorpWatch : IVORY COAST: Cocoa Exports ‘fund’ Ivory Coast Conflict. CorpWatch, n.d. Web. 11 May 2016. <http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14514&gt;.
Hailey, Paul. “From Côte D’Ivoire to Chocolate Bar – the Difficult Road for Sustainable Cocoa.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 30 Jan. 2014. Web. 11 May 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/fairtrade-partner-zone/cotedvoire-chocolate-difficult-road-sustainable-cocoa&gt;.

Images:

Image: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivory_Coast#/media/File:Internally_Displaced_Persons_Duekoue_2011_Cote_dIvoire.jpg

Image 2: http://www.flickr.com/photos/socodevi/6837240434

Image 3: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivory_Coast#/media/File:059_French_Foreign_Legion.JPG

Image 4: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Ivorian_Civil_War#/media/File:Flickr_-_DFID_-_UK_Department_for_International_Development_-_Displaced_Ivorians_queue_for_food_at_a_UNHCR_distribution_site_in_Liberia.jpg

 

How to Move Towards a Sustainable Cocoa Market

Sustainability within the cocoa industry has become an increasingly common buzz word, but it is a term more often than not kept vague and unqualified in order to obfuscate the amount of progress that the industry has made in regards to sustainability in regards to issues that stretch from agricultural methods to fair labor practices. While initiatives, public statements, and advertisements released by cocoa corporations of all sizes often address issues of sustainability, it is often a marketing ploy to engage with socially conscious consumers as opposed to a goal to actually improve flaws in the cocoa supply chain. How many schools have chocolate companies claimed to have built in places like West Africa, and how does that exactly improve the lives of underpaid farmers? The following video, produced by Fair Trade America introduces the range of initiatives the company claims through the filming of seemingly daily life at a cacao cooperative in West Africa.

A plethora of Fair Trade initiated programs market themselves in manner to emphasize that they have increased the well being of local farmers and their families, is not made clear how financially and programmatically they have been achieved. It is important as consumers who are subject to the marketing campaigns that make companies appear more socially and economically responsible to be able to weed out superficial attempts at sustainability from those that may make a difference, for better or for worse, in order to better make informed decisions. This paper aims to demystify the definition of sustainability within the cocoa supply chain- sustainability from the perspective of farmers, specifically, and outline methods through which such sustainability can be achieved.

Unsustainable practices can be found in many aspects of cocoa production. In terms of horticultural and agricultural processes, very little is known about the cacao plant. It is a manually intensive plant to harvest, and in recent years it has become more and more fragile and susceptible to disease. This decrease in productivity due to the plant’s genetics, age, and horticultural practices have not only negatively impacted supply for large companies, but the lack of income has contributed to many sociocultural issues surrounding farmers in affected regions. The lack of agricultural sustainability, while not the only influential factor, has a direct relationship to the lack of financial sustainability of cacao farmers which ultimately leads to socially and culturally unsustainable practices like child labor. To better put this one plant into perspective, around 50 million lives depend on Theobroma cacao, and in the Ivory Coast alone, 15% of the country’s GDP is dependent on the raw good which translates to about 5% of the country’s households [1]. To these farmers, according to Peter Laderach of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture who studies the effects of climate change in cacao farming region, the cacao trees are “’like ATM machines. They pick some pods and sell them quickly to raise cash for school fees or medical expenses. The trees play an absolutely critical role in rural life [2].’” A rift in the supply of cacao beans for these farmers could be catastrophic to their wellbeing.

The challenges that farmers face in reaching sustainable harvesting regimes range from poor knowledge of best farming practices, older plants with diminishing yields, increases in pest and disease, and the looming threat of climate change; oftentimes farmers face the entire range of issues. In Brazil, for example, disease like Witches Broom reduced production by 80% in the late 80s. Now, another disease, Frosty Pod Rot, has been spreading through Latin America while cocoa swollen shoot virus, the cocoa pod borer, black pod rot, and water mold affect plants in Africa [3]. If Witches Broom and Frosty Pod Rot were to reach West African growing regions, from Latin America, where the majority of the crop is grown, the affects to cacao production would be devastating [4]. Other factors negatively impacting crop yields include a very narrow band of growing compatible growing region along the equator and a diminishing gene pool due to a history of inbreeding. This lack of genetic diversity has exacerbated the species’ ability to combat disease and other hardships.

In light of these issues, many efforts have been taken, especially by large chocolate production companies, in order to produce more resilient plant specimens that will produce more pods and are more resistant to disease and pests. Many, like Nestle, Mars, and Hershey’s, have taken a scientific approach to studying the genetics of the cacao tree in order to increase yield. The video linked here quickly describes the race between teams of scientists at both Mars and Hershey’s to map the genome of the Theobroma cacao plant in order to find answers to disease and pest resistance. Nestle has also placed many resources and efforts into research and development of “super saplings” that will be able to increase yield. Nestle plans on giving away 12 million of these saplings to farmer in 2022.

Both the genetic sequence and selective breeding of cacao plants are crucial in identifying the ideal specimen. Tests done on naturally resistant plants and their offspring are helpful but slow, and the process is greatly sped up with the help of a mapped genome that better identifies where disease and pest resistance genes are located [5].

In all cocoa growing regions, 30-40% of crops are lost to disease and pests [6], and while the efforts to genetically modify the perfect cacao plant are helpful, there are a myriad of other factors that stand to undermine this single faceted approach. Soil fertility, for example, has decreased in many of the growing regions. In fact, oftentimes in abandoned coffee plantations that have moved for higher elevations in order to reduce instances of pest and disease, cacao would take its place as it is less fragile than coffee plants. Additionally, the lack of socio-political infrastructure in many cacao growing regions, for example, coupled with the fact that the cacao farming community is made up of tiny scaled operations in large numbers, makes it incredibly difficult to disseminate change across an entire region and making progress a slow endeavor. Overall, a lack of access to education affects all aspects of a farmer’s financial and social well being. From access to latest technologies to professional literacy, farmers are at a huge disadvantage in terms of setting themselves up for long term economic sustainability. The looming threat of climate change also further exacerbates all of the aforementioned issues.

Given the complexity of issues that stand in the way of sustainability for farmers, the focus of companies like Nestle, Mars, and Hershey’s in finding the ideal cacao plant to increase productivity and therefore profit margins for farmers and ultimately themselves is insufficient in the holistic improvement of the livelihoods of cacao farmers. Take the introduction of cacao to Vietnam as a case study; cacao plants and knowledge of how to plant and harvest them were well distributed to farmers in the 1980s, but after demand for cocoa disappeared after the fall of the Berlin Wall, farmers slashed their crops out of frustration [7]. This demonstrates that access to plants and planting knowledge is merely one facet of many in building a more resilient livelihood out of cacao farming. The lack of control or input and general knowledge regarding the global market of cocoa production and consumption puts farmers at a huge disadvantage and at the mercy of chocolate makers.

In that respect, the work of smaller, niche chocolatiers like Taza and Equal Exchange are a great complement to the top down scientific research of larger corporations. Due to the scale of their operations, smaller chocolatiers are able to form closer relationships with their cacao producers and create a more mutually beneficial relationship that may raise prices for consumers, better reflects the price point of a sustainable supply chain. Shared knowledge about how cocoa should be grown and how cocoa products should be evaluated is still burgeoning, but one effort that Equal Exchange has been pushing is the development of testing and tasting labs within the region of cultivation to better bridge the knowledge gap between farmers and those buying their goods. How can farmers be expected to produce better quality cacao beans for a higher price if what they are producing is a very foreign product or is too valuable as an export to be consumed? The following video, while is a dramatization of reality, begins to hint at the disparity between those who cultivate and those who consume.

The point to take home isn’t that farmers are unable to enjoy the fruits of their labor, but rather the roadblocks that stop farmers from understanding what happens to their goods after they leave their farms. It is beneficial for all when farmers are as fully aware of the chocolate making process so that they may be able to make decisions about how to plant and harvest for a better product as opposed to constantly relying on manuals and instructions from outside organizations and companies who do not always have the best interests of the farmers as a main priority. Sustainability for a farmer includes the ability to affect the economics of cocoa as opposed to perpetually being victim to the rising and falling prices of cocoa. Overall knowledge and more involvement are key factors in closing this gap.

While much of the focus in on farmers themselves in creating a more sustainable livelihood, there is much that can be done from the perspective of the consumer as well. Awareness and education about chocolate should not be limited to the various producers along the supply chain. A broader, collective conscious effort to understand how the cocoa products come to be lead to more informed consumers that apply pressure to the overall industry to be more sustainable and resilient. While seemingly altruistic, this approach is quite practical as well. The end goal is not for a consumer to feel good about being charitable and righteous, but rather the goal should be about creating a more economically, ecologically, and socio-politically chain where the weakest links at this point are disenfranchised farmers and disconnected consumers. Corporations and organizations in between have various approaches at closing the gap for a variety of reasons, but working towards a complex solution from both ends of the supply chain will be critical to the success of a more sustainable market.

1. Schmitz, Harold, and Howard-Yana Shapiro. “The Race to Save Chocolate.” Scientific American. Accessed May 03, 2016. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-race-to-save-chocolate/.

2. ibid.

3. ibid.

4. Moyer, Michael. “Death and Chocolate: Disease Threatens to Devastate Global Cocoa Supply.” Scientific American. Accessed May 03, 2016. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/death-and-chocolate/.

5. ibid.

6. “Challenges.” World Cocoa Foundation. Accessed May 04, 2016. http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/about-cocoa/challenges/.

7. “Cacao and Chocolate in Vietnam, a Brief History.” Marou, Faiseurs de Chocolat. Accessed May 03, 2016. http://marouchocolate.com/post/55951688118/history.