I have had a fondness for chocolate for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I always remember going to the local general store with my dad for groceries every Saturday evening. It was during that store visit I would spend my meager allowance on that heavenly, creamy, melt in my mouth delicious goodness. And scarcely a day goes by five decades later that I don't thoroughly enjoy a piece of dark chocolate. Old habits never change. I still let it melt in my mouth and savor its smooth texture, taste, and aroma. I could not contemplate what the world would be like if there were no chocolate.
The ancient Mayan texts described cacao as a gift of the gods. Interesting enough, researchers at the University of Tampere in Finland found that self-proclaimed chocolate “addicts” salivated more in the presence of chocolate.
Chocolate comes from a raw material called cacao, which comes from the cacao tree. This is a small evergreen tree that grows anywhere from 13 to 26 feet tall. Cocoa helps protect against cardiovascular disease due to its flavonoids. Cocoa boasts high amounts of antioxidants, minerals, healthy fats and polyphenols. I always thought it would be so cool if I could grow some cacao trees in my backyard (yes, I have investigated it). Okay, I admit it. I am TOTALLY addicted to chocolate. I discovered to my disappointment that the cacao tree only grows well in the tropics near the equator. They grow best in the partial shade of large rainforest trees. That explains why they are not growing in backyards of where I am from in Canada. I also discovered that climate change is putting my daily fix of chocolate in jeopardy. That is correct. We may be in danger of losing a significant portion of the worlds chocolate production because of climate change.
Kevin Rabinovitch, Global Director of Sustainability of Mars, Incorporated (the world's largest candy maker) said in a Yale Climate Connection article that "With climate change, temperatures are rising, and rainfall patterns are changing, rendering some of the current cocoa-producing regions less suitable for producing cocoa." More than two-thirds of the world's supply of cacao used in chocolate production comes from the hot and humid lowlands of West Africa, which provides just the perfect combination of temperature and moisture. With warmer temperatures and less precipitation in West Africa, this is a predicament facing chocolate lovers around the world. Will there be a crash in chocolate production? World Atlas states that Ghana produces annually 835,466 tons of cocoa. The top producing country in the world is Ivory Coast as they annually produce 1,448,992 tons of cocoa!
In September 2017, Mars Incorporated, realizing that climate change was putting their business at risk, made headlines with their $1 billion pledge to fight climate change. The money will go to powering their operations with 100% renewable energy, projects that fight deforestation, support for small-scale farmers, and more efficient farming and shipping. Previously in 2009, management had announced their entire cocoa supply would be Rainforest Alliance Certified by 2020. Rainforest Alliance is one of two important certifications, with the other being Fair Trade. The move by Mars Incorporated is an unprecedented milestone for the cocoa industry, farmers, and chocolate lovers.
Cacao farming is unique in that most of the world's cocoa comes from small family farms. Food Bev Media has mentioned there are as many as two million cocoa growers in the western Africa nations of Ivory Coast and Ghana alone. These family plots are small, on average three hectares in size. To obtain enough cocoa for the demand, chocolate manufacturers sometimes must source their cocoa from several thousand growers.
As more companies like Mars, Incorporated source their cocoa from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, more cacao farmers are taking steps to become certified. They become part of a collective made up of democratically managed farms. Through Rainforest Alliance certification, farm workers benefit from decent wages, safe working conditions, dignified housing, health care and access to education for their children. Rainforest Alliance Certified farms curb deforestation, conserve soil and water, reduce waste and provide habitat for wildlife. Farms are inspected once each year, and abusive labor practices are not tolerated.
It has been well documented that cacao plantations, particularly in the Ivory Coast, have been experiencing the worst forms of slave labor. Children are being trafficked to work on cocoa farms as slaves - the average cost for a child is $250. How do we know if the chocolate we are eating is connected to child slavery? The website Slave Free Chocolate mentions that Organic and Fair Trade/Rainforest Alliance certifications are almost always ethically sourced. Cocoa grown OUTSIDE of West Africa is most always ethically grown, which means it would free of unethical labor practices. It is important to check our packaging to find out where your chocolate is produced, and if it is grown organically and have certifications.
For decades I looked for chocolate bargains for my chocolate fix. I never stopped to think of the reason one brand of chocolate was cheaper than another brand. By always looking for the best deal, I may have naively been choosing child slave-made products without knowing it.
The term "knowledge is power" is commonly attributed to English Renaissance statesman and philosopher Sir. Francis Bacon in the 1600's. Regarding us as chocolate consumers, we can clean up the chocolate industry through our purchasing power. Purchasing Organic, Rainforest Alliance Certified and Fair Trade Certified chocolate gives our planets treasured cocoa plantations fighting resources against climate change. When more people buy ethically produced chocolate, it leaves a powerful message for chocolate manufacturers to source their purchases from certified cooperatives, putting an end to the poor child slave labor practice that takes place in West Africa. Let's do this together.