Thursday, May 12, 2011

Harvesting Justice in the Dominican Republic

Cacao is grown at CONACADO co-op in Dominican Republic and used to produce chocolate for Equal Exchange, a fair trade enterprise.
Credit: Rosina Pohlmann

This is a second blog entry by Rosina Pohlmann, who 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.

The past few days have been active indeed, as we try to fit what would ideally be a ten-day tour into seven days. During our stay in Yamasa we visited a cacao farm, swam in a local river, visited a small women-led business, visited the new credit union, planted our own cacao trees, and spent plenty of quality time with our home-stay families.

Many of the families who opened their homes to us are connected to the co-op, and they shared their stories as well as their food and hospitality. It’s heartening to see how much of a positive impact CONACADO has had on their lives and how quickly the community is progressing. We saw schools and water pumps that were paid for by fair trade premiums, and we listened as co-op members told us about their children, many of whom were able to pursue higher education. Also encouraging is the co-op’s new credit union, which allows members to take out loans at low rates and thus establish the community even further.

One of my favorite moments was our visit to the Asociación Mujer & Acción, a group of women who have used co-op funds to start their own small business venture. The women use cacao to make a sweet wine which they then sell. They started with a small loan, which they paid back, and then were able to take out a larger one with which they built a modest structure to house their business. To me, these women exemplify the progress which is possible within the community—the kind of positive outcome that results when we invest in people and not just things.

All of us on the tour feel very grateful for our home-stay families, and toward everyone else who has helped us along our way in Yamasa. We have now left Yamasa for San Francisco (yes, there’s one in the DR too!)—uncharted territory for Equal Exchange and the rest of us!


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