The delights of FairTrade chocolate – for consumer and grower

fair tradeThere is special pleasure from your first season’s home-grown organic tomato, a pleasure that goes beyond the sweet taste explosion, as all that gathered sunshine is released for your taste buds. Not only is there that little swell of pride, knowing you have nurtured fresh and healthy produce for you and your family. You’ve also added a little positivity to the world at large; treading gently on your surrounds, and doing your bit to redress the balance, of a world that is out of kilter. And that same sweet-mix of pleasures is definitely to be found in a tab of Fairtrade chocolate melting on your tongue.

OK, so you may not have grown the cocoa beans yourself, but like that tomato, buying FairTrade certainly falls on the positive karmic side of things. FairTrade is part of the new way of working things out in the 21st Century, taking the double-edged sword of the market, and turning it to a productive, rather than purely profitable, use. In this new and fair global village, the economic war of globalization is replaced by a bridge between consumer and producer. This aims to leave both parties enriched by the relationship – not the ranks of middlemen that have traditionally lain between buyer and seller.

Fairtrade products grew out of a realization, during the 1960’s, that even as the developed world gave up colonial rule of the developing world, the balance of power remained firmly in the hands of the ex-colonial rulers. They held the economic levers to dictate prices for the commodity exports that much of the developing world was (and still is) reliant upon.

Church organizations and charities led the way – not content to let the poorer half of the world struggle, they looked for ways to constructively help. And one means of help avoided the dependency of charity -with concerned individuals in the West buying products directly from traders in the developing world, at guaranteed price premiums. From the small beginnings at church fund raisers and market stalls, FairTrade caught the popular imagination, and today is a major factor in many commodity markets- including chocolate.

So what exactly does the cocoa bean grower get by supplying his or her beans through a FairTrade cooperative – and does your money really do what is implied on the cocoa tin? Well, probably the most important thing for the cocoa grower is that they have a guaranteed minimum price. Anyone buying FairTrade cocoa beans has to pay this price, and it means that cocoa growers have the luxury of security. They know that their income isn’t going to drop, and throw them into dire poverty. And planning with that sense of security is everything, when the crop you grow can take 5 years to reach maturity.

They also get a guaranteed premium over the market price, which has just been bumped up to $200, so benefit from price rises too. But what makes FairTrade really work is that the contracts for supplying the beans are made to cooperative groups of farmers. That means the premium paid goes directly to those who were traditionally at the bottom of the supply chain. There’s no merchant or cocoa processor selling them short, no big government bigwigs telling them how to spend their money, and no NGO’s patronizing them. Now they are the ones who decide how to spend the additional money made, and poor farmers, who have long been downtrodden politically, are being empowered.

Whilst FairTrade is still less than 1% of all cocoa sales, in 2011, the FairTrade Labeling Organization sees $10 million going towards development projects. That compares with  the total value of FairTrade cocoa sales, in 2009, of around $35 million. And that money is being ploughed into education, processing mills, health centers and improved techniques for growing their crops. It is good to know that those extra few cents that you pay for your FairTrade chocolate is helping to energize communities on the other side of the world.

But they’re not the only ones who are gaining – chocolate lovers are too. Through some clever marketing, and a focus on telling the stories behind each country’s cocoa farms, FairTrade has almost single handedly re-invented the luxury chocolate market. Many FairTrade chocolates are now supplied as single-origin products. So we can educate our palates, comparing the powerful sourness of Ghanan 99% cocoa bars against the intense bitter aromas of 95% cocoa Colombian bars. Chocolate is no longer an adulterated quick sugar fix, but a pleasure to savor.

With this emphasis on the high-cocoa bars, typical of many FairTrade chocolate brands, more ethical chocolate-lovers are also discovering that eating chocolate isn’t just fun-  high cocoa bars are loaded with health-giving benefits. These include a powerful anti-oxidant compound, epicatechin, and improvements to circulation. That melting chocolate moment  has been seen to reduce blood-pressure in some people. So FairTrade chocolate is one of those rare win-win games – a great demonstration of what can happen when the power of the consumer is married to a taste for social justice.

[This article is a guest post from Adana, a stay at home mom with 3 cute kids (Jamie, Pablo, Guerrero) who writes on the topic of adjustable dumbbells]

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