With growing demand for chocolate in emerging markets like India, China, Brazil and increasing interest in fine flavor organic chocolate in developed countries the cacao industry is facing huge challenges. Production needs to become more sustainable and the trade fair for small producers. In addition to this cacao producing countries are already feeling the impact of climate change. Rainfall is scarce in some areas and leave cacao plants under stress and vulnerable to pests and diseases. Small scale farmers have to face income and food insecurity for their families. In many cacao producing regions efforts are now made to help those farmers and the chocolate industries by developing different technologies that are climate smart and sustainable. As the cacao tree is an understorey forest tree it is more than natural to grow it in a forestry like system. Trees that provide shade can be chosen to provide timber, food or medicine and help to diversify the farmers income and diet. The benefits of growing cacao in an Agroforestry system are not only of economic value but also increase biodiversity, protect forests, wildlife and soils. The economic downside is that the trees grow slower and produce less than in a mono-culture system without shade. This is of course a short sighted view of it, because the ecological long term damage of mono-cultures is enormous.
Agroforestry systems can be productive for up to 50years which reduces the need to deforest for new plantations and they can be used as buffer zones for protected forest areas. During my research in Peru I found that more and more farmers switched to that kind of system but still many other don’t. They claim that it demands too much investment and work, at least in the installation phase. Through my interviews I found out that there are some credits and financial resources that can be accessed by small scale farmers but often these packages don’t take into account the needs of the farmers. Such as timing of payments and interest rates. I was also told that small farmers don’t want to join cooperatives that have an organic certification scheme because they demand a lot, in terms of investments, crop management and availability of the farmers for training and audit. Often farmers are not able to provide what is necessary, due to lacking infrastructure or poverty. Many cooperatives don’t fairly share the benefits of higher prices for organic beans among the farmers, which is also a reason why they don’t want to affiliate.
The problems are multi-faceted and it is not sure how the global demand for cacao will be satisfied without harming the environment and taking advantage of producers. I believe that we have to face our responsibility as consumers through the buying choices that we make. No one wants to enjoy one of the finest products that mother earth provides us with, knowing that harm was done in the process. Certification organizations such as Rainforest Alliance and UTZ work hard to provide a basis for our choices and buying chocolate from small artisan producers can be a way to positively relate to those those along the supply chain. Being a smart consumer, means being informed.
Basically the future of chocolate lays in our hands…and hopefully finds it’s way into our mouth!
Watch : The dark side of chocolate, a documentary about child slavery on cacao farms in Africa