Are Certifications Doing Enough?

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Cocoa producers of the Yakasse-Attobrou Agricultural Cooperative gather cocoa pods in a certified Fair Trade-label cocoa plantation in Adzope, Ivory Coast. Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images

Our friends who generally oppose regulations and other efforts to protect people and the environment, saying that these protections inhibit growth and innovation and often fail to achieve the protections they are supposed to create, may sometimes have a point. But from our perspective, they too often point in the wrong direction. Constant monitoring to evaluate the efficacy of these protections is a point we might agree on, assuming we are not ideologically driven on either side of this topic.  With every big step forward towards greater sustainability, it is important to pause and consider the impact. Among other things, we must ask whether we are doing enough:

Fair Trade Helps Farmers, But Not Their Hired Workers

It’s a disturbing question that haunts many shoppers with good intentions: What am I actually accomplishing by buying coffee or chocolate with the Fair Trade label? Does the extra money that I pay actually benefit the people who harvested those beans?

Researchers have been curious, too. They’ve found that, in fact, small farmers in Latin America and Africa do benefit from the minimum price that Fair Trade guarantees and the extra money it delivers to farmer cooperatives. Researchers have documented higher wages, greater participation in community decisions, and even greater gender equity. Continue reading

Organikos 2019 & Beyond

Organikos2019Logo.jpgThe first reference was in 2017, with a brief reverie on tastes associated with places. Organikos next appeared in early 2019, most recently here. And today just a quick further note to clarify that while chocolate and other taste of place items are in testing to be offered by Organikos, specialty coffee from various regions in Costa Rica is the first product. The simple reason is that coffee is in so many ways the most important product of this country, and set the stage for the country’s many remarkable achievements, including those yet to come. Organikos will focus on specialty coffee because it has a following as strong now as any time in history.

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In the new wave of coffee fanaticism, attention to tasting notes and pairings rivals that of the world of wine.

In this short video posted this morning Rachel Lipstein helps define the current intense wave of interest:

Coffee, ambrosia of the capitalist and the creative alike, is many things: a fixture of social ritual, the product of a vast agricultural production steeped in colonialist history, and the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world. Entire economies rest upon its cultivation and its caffeine content…

That is an intense opening statement, and sets the stage for the video’s goal of helping a lay person understand the obsession a bit better:

CoffeeObsess…Its modern permutations go far beyond cream and sugar: fair-trade designations, additions of alternative milks such as soy or pea-protein, a preparation with butter and oil (for optimized biohacking), or simply with a piece of shortbread dunked in. It has inspired legal and moral crusades and “love is brewing” theme weddings. The latest installment in The New Yorker’s Annals of Obsession video series features a group of specialty-coffee experts and explores the fringes of the fascination…

Coffee is the taste of many places other than Costa Rica, but this is home, so here we go. We have already roasted, packaged and labeled coffee in trial markets, and have made some important adjustments as we prepare to launch formally in a few months. In earlier posts you could see the font we thought was best with which to write the name Organikos. We have decided otherwise for the time being, in part because with the newer design, as the logotype for Organikos evolves, we hope to have a smaller footprint with a message that fits on one side (versus front and back of package labeling).

Anything But Sweet

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Trees felled for a cocoa plantation inside the Scio Forest Reserve in western Ivory Coast. MIGHTY EARTH

Fred Pearce provides puzzling yet somehow understandable examinations of environmental challenges, that make it impossible to look away with a clear conscience. Since reading this (note the photo above and in that story) I have been paying more attention to chocolate and its origins. I appreciate Mr. Pearce’s deep dive into the dark reality documented in this story:

The Real Price of a Chocolate Bar: West Africa’s Rainforests

Ivory Coast has lost more than 80 percent of its forests in the last 50 years, mainly to cocoa production. The government has a plan to turn over management of former forest to international chocolate manufacturers: Is it a conservation strategy or a land grab?

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Workers cut cocoa in the Ivory Coast village of Godilehiri. Most of the country’s cocoa is grown by small farmers, on plots of 7 to 10 acres. ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

How can you save the last rainforests from rampant deforestation in one of Africa’s most biodiverse countries? A crackdown on those responsible — in this case, chocolate growers and traders? In the Ivory Coast, the government thinks differently. It is unveiling a plan instead to remove protection from most of its remaining forests and hand them over to the world’s chocolate traders. Is this madness, a brutal land grab, or the only way out?

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A park ranger stands over illegally harvested cocoa, found during a routine patrol of the Cavally Classified Forest in Ivory Coast. MIGHTY EARTH

In the past half-century, few countries have lost rainforests as fast as the Ivory Coast. More than 80 percent of its forests are gone, most following an illegal invasion by as many as a million landless people into national parks and other supposedly protected forests. The Marahoue National Park alone has 30,000 illegal inhabitants. The invaders are growing cocoa to supply the global chocolate business.

The Ivory Coast, a West African country the size of New Mexico, produces more than a third of the world’s cocoa. The crop contributes around a tenth of the nation’s GDP. But around 40 percent of the country’s cocoa crop — more than a tenth of the world’s chocolate bars — is grown illegally in the country’s national parks and 230 supposedly protected government-owned forests, known as forêts classée, says Etelle Higonnet of Mighty Earth, a United States-based environmental group active in cataloging the footprint of key global commodities.

Most cocoa is grown in monocultures of what is known as the full-sun system, requiring the removal of all surrounding trees. Meeting the world’s insatiable demand for the beans that make chocolate has resulted in many protected areas being “completely converted to farms,” according to Eloi Anderson Bitty of the University Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Abidjan. Continue reading

Sloths, Cecropia & Cacao

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A sloth in Costa Rica.  Karen Reyes

I had never heard the name guarumo for this tree before. Cecropia is the name we have commonly heard for it in Costa Rica. Veronique Greenwood, who we have linked to twice until now, has contributed more than vocabulary to me through this article. I am particularly thankful for the realization that cacao can be more useful than I had been aware. Beyond the benefits of being grown organically it may play a key role in regenerative forest development. This, entrepreneurial conservation in mind, must become a variable by which Organikos sources chocolate in Costa Rica:

Where Sloths Find These Branches, Their Family Trees Expand

A study showed that when some animals find a crucial resource, they can survive in changing environments and even thrive.

Look closely up in the trees of a shade-grown cacao plantation in eastern Costa Rica, and you’ll see an array of small furry faces peering back at you. Those are three-toed sloths that make their homes there, clambering ever so slowly into the upper branches to bask in the morning sun. You might also spot them munching on leaves from the guarumo tree, which shades the cacao plants. Continue reading

The Pests That Make Cacao Productive

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Forcipomyia spp. pollinating a cacao flower. Goodman Cacao Estate, Killaloe, Australia, 2017. Credit: Samantha J. Forbes

This 12-minute primer on Soundcloud gives a reason to appreciate these otherwise very annoying pests:

Chocolate: Brought To You By Bugs

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Forcipomyia spp. SEM image. Goodman Cacao Estate, Killaloe, Australia, 2017. Credit: Samantha J. Forbes

Chocolate starts as a beautiful yellow and cream-colored blossom, with blushes of pink and magenta. The flowers, sprouting straight from the bark of the cacao tree, are no bigger than a dime—and they’re pollinated by something much smaller: a barely visible fly related to biting no-see-ums, or midges. Continue reading

Cacao, Spices & Imagination

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Left, a ripe cacao pod. Right, truffles from Midunu chocolates contain spices and flavors from all over Africa. Midunu Chocolates

Thanks to Amy E. Robertson and National Public Radio (USA) for telling the story of Midunu, a brief excerpt of which is sampled below:

One Woman’s Quest To Tell ‘The African Story Through Chocolate’

…While working in Senegal, Atadika joined forces with two more food-loving friends, and created a pop-up restaurant that was wildly popular. After dipping her toes in the culinary world for a couple of years, she finally took the plunge. In 2014, Atadika resigned from the UN, moved back to her native Ghana and began cooking full time.

Atadika started with catering and pop-up dinners. “It wasn’t my plan to do chocolates,” she says. “But whatever I do in food I look at in terms of adding value, and chocolate just kind of popped in, because we have this cocoa but we weren’t really processing it at the level we should be.” Midunu Chocolates was born. Continue reading

Keep National Parks Safe, Know Your Chocolate

Choc.jpgI am now learning more about cacao, and its end use, the sweet we all adore. The rise in artisanal cacao farming, as we have noted on occasion, can have important implications for conservation. Whether you are a chocoholic or just a casual dabbler in the sweet bi-product of cacao, this report deserves your attention (click on the image to go to the source):

Chocolate is everywhere. It is the afternoon pick-me-up, the sensual indulgence, the accoutrement to seduction. Lovers gift truffles, skiers sip on rich hot chocolate, and connoisseurs savor the tiniest, richest bite of single origin dark chocolate. The ancient Aztecs believed that chocolate was an aphrodisiac, and the emperor Montezuma was reported to gorge himself on chocolate in advance of his trysts. Continue reading

Reviving Cacao

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Cacao pods ready for harvest at the Loiza Dark Chocolate farm. Courtesy of Loiza Dark Chocolate

Thanks to Dan Charles and his colleagues at the salt, over at National Public Radio (USA) for telling us about that something speaking to Mr. Vizcarrondo; we, working in Belize, working on farm revival among other things, also hear that something and we are inspired to hear of others who hear it too:

The dream of reviving Puerto Rico’s chocolate tradition took root in Juan Carlos Vizcarrondo’s mind years ago.

He’s always been obsessed with flowers and trees. As a boy, he planted so much greenery in his mother’s backyard, there was hardly room to walk.

But in his thirties, he started planting cocoa trees, with their colorful pods full of magical seeds. “Something told me, just keep planting, because nobody has it! It’s so strange, nobody has it!,” he recalls. Continue reading

Forest Protection By Any Other Name, For Any Other Purpose, Through Any Other Means, Is Just As Sweet

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Richard Fortey and Derek Niemann among the beeches in Grim’s Dyke Wood. Photograph: Sarah Niemann

We do not favor private sector conservation efforts over all other options; we favor them over the option of no conservation at all. Governments around the world have rightly done the heaviest lifting on preserving nature, considering their resources, eminent domain, and other factors including the most salient; public lands effectively belong to an entire nation’s citizens. Philanthropies have also done enormous good. We have written plenty on both public and philanthropic conservation schemes. Today, a more modest story, but no less lovely:

A walk in the woods with Richard Fortey

Henley, Oxfordshire The palaeontologist and author offers a tour of Grim’s Dyke Wood, which he bought in 2011

Derek Niemann

Five years after the palaeontologist Richard Fortey bought Grim’s Dyke Wood, a small Chiltern beech wood, he shows no diminution in enthusiasm for his “nature reserve”. He gives me a tour, though in truth we delight in each other’s discoveries. I find him a ring of bright feathers on a pile of rotting pine logs, a raptor’s kill, the buffs and browns speaking of a song thrush forever silenced. He finds bracket fungi that have insinuated themselves into the thin, horizontal lesions on a cherry tree’s trunk. Continue reading

In The Name Of Chocolate

The Tamshiyacu plantation in northern Peru where it is alleged a United Cacao subsidiary illegally cleared primary rainforest. Photograph: Environmental Investigation Agency

The Tamshiyacu plantation in northern Peru where it is alleged a United Cacao subsidiary illegally cleared primary rainforest. Photograph: Environmental Investigation Agency

Thanks to the Guardian‘s renewed environmental reporting efforts for this investigative delicacy:

Can Peru stop ‘ethical chocolate’ from destroying the Amazon?

NGOs allege illegal deforestation of primary rainforest to plant cacao and oil palm

David Hill

Cattle-ranching, logging, mining, highways, hydroelectric dam projects, oil and gas, soy, oil palm. . . These are what first come to mind to many people when thinking about how the Amazon is being destroyed, but what about chocolate too?

NGO Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released a report on 7 April mainly about monoculture oil palm plantations, which it describes as a “major new threat to Peruvian forests.” The report, Deforestation by Definition, focuses on the Romero Group, Peru’s “largest economic actor”, and what it calls the “Melka Group”, a network of 25 companies recently established in Peru and controlled by businessman Dennis Melka, a major player in the destructive oil palm industry in Malaysia.

According to EIA, two “Melka Group” companies have illegally deforested an estimated “nearly 7,000 hectares” of mainly primary rainforest in Peru over the last three years, and others have acquired at least 456 “rural properties” and requested the government set aside another 96,192 hectares.

Continue reading