Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Harvesting Justice in the Dominican Republic

At the CONACADO co-op in the Dominican Republic, Fair Trade chocolate is produced from cacao beans.
Photo Credit: Rosina Pohlmann

By Rosina Pohlmann

Rosina Pohlmann is traveling for New World Outlook magazine this week on an UMCOR tour of the CONACADO cacao cooperative, an association of small-farm producers who grow a portion of the cacao beans that make the Equal Exchange chocolate line. Rosie will be posting blog entries this week about what she sees and hears, and in July, her article on the tour will appear in New World Outlook.

This week I am blessed to join an eco-tour led by El Fuego del Sol that will take me into some of the farms where Fair Trade chocolate is produced, and allow me to learn from the farmers themselves.

I arrived on Saturday, and joined a team made up of Methodists, Catholics, representatives of Equal Exchange, and world travelers. We’ve been busy! Sunday began with back-to-back services at the Iglesia Episcopal de Santo Domingo, a lovely church just west of the colonial zone. The first service, conducted in English, was for the Union congregation, which combines several denominations not well represented in the Dominican Republic. The second was an Episcopal service and was lead in Spanish. After the services, we joined in fellowship and conversation with Pastor Bob Snow and his wife, Ellen Snow, who shared a little of the Church’s history.

They told us that the parsonage has seen both tragedy and great accomplishment: tragedy during the time of dictator Rafael Trujillo, when a socially minded pastor was murdered for his anti-governmental actions, and accomplishment in recent years, as social programs addressing orphaned children, AIDS, and other social issues have flourished and expanded.

After touring the Colonial City, a historically rich area that includes the oldest street in the Americas – La Calle de Damas – we learned a little about cultural relations from Jean Gentil, a well-educated and well-spoken Haitian who has sought fruitlessly a job in the Dominican Republic for 15 years (and whose story provides the plot for the award-winning film Jean Gentil). The conversation was eye-opening indeed.

Today, we began a new adventure, visiting the headquarters of CONACADO and travelling to one of the seven Bloques where Fair Trade chocolate is produced, called Yamasá. Several leaders of the chocolate-producers co-op, as well as a number of youth active in the community, welcomed us and led us on a tour of the fermentation facility, where we learned a bit about the painstaking process of fermenting, drying, and packaging the cacao beans. Perhaps as fascinating as the production process is the democratic structure of CONACADO, led by the organization of the cacao producers themselves. I’m eager to learn more about it as we visit the cacao farms and share with our home-stay families.

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