Monday, May 16, 2011

Harvesting Justice in the Dominican Republic, part 3

Baby cacao trees are cultivated in a CONACADO nursery, the first step toward the production of fair-trade chocolate.
Credit: Rosina Pohlmann

This is the third and final blog entry by Rosina Pohlmann, who traveled for New World Outlook magazine last 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 has posted blog entries for the past week about what she saw and heard, and in July, her article on the tour will appear in New World Outlook.

Our stay in San Francisco in the Dominican Republic was brief but rich. There was a somber atmosphere to the place when we arrived, due to recent violence, but thanks to the careful planning of our hosts, we were able to avoid any danger. My prayers remain with those who were affected.

It’s good to know, however, that in the midst of trouble, there is positivity, too. Plants are being nurtured to grow into strong, fruitful trees; people are being given the opportunity to build better lives for themselves; and organic, fair-trade chocolate is being produced! This was apparent at the new chocolate factory that CONACADO acquired just five years ago, where many of its cacao beans are taken to be processed after they have been fermented and dried. There we breathed in the rich smell of chocolate and saw firsthand how the beans are cleaned, heated, ground, pressed, and separated into butter and powder.

Afterwards, we took a quick tour of CONACADO Bloque 9, located in San Francisco. The setup there is very similar to the plant in Yamasa, including a new credit union open to the community. We then hopped over to a nursery where baby cacao trees are cultivated. It’s not as easy as it may seem: each tree needs to be pruned and grafted with the branch of an existing tree. The process was demonstrated for us in Yamasa as well, but here we were given the opportunity to try it ourselves, and thereby learned just how much care and skill it requires. Let’s just say that those of us who tried needed a little bit of help from the experts!

San Francisco was the last stop on our tour. I am now back home in New York City, and in addition to feeling very grateful for the chance to see what I saw and meet the people I met, I feel reflective—especially as a consumer of chocolate. Every step of the cocoa-production process is hard, hard work, and many of those who do that work still live in conditions that, although adequate, would be unacceptable to most of us. They’re improving with every school built, business financed, and roof repaired through fair-trade premiums. These improvements need to continue—which makes fair trade and the support of fair trade absolutely necessary. It’s startling to learn that entire communities, thousands of families and thousands of lives, depend on something that takes just a few minutes to consume—something that, to us, is just a few moments of delight for our taste buds. With this much at stake, I can’t afford to be blasé about my choices as a consumer. Not anymore.

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