Chocolate and Lutherans
This month’s Scroll article comes from Dr. David Lose, President of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. Dr. Lose wrote the article in his blog, “In the Meantime” while on a trip to Africa.
“I suspect you won’t be surprised that harvesting cocoa beans is a labor-intensive process. But I have to admit that I did not know just how labor-intensive it was before our trip. We spent the day at the processing plant and testing center. Here the leaders of the cooperative grow the seedlings that will eventually grow into the trees that yield the fruit pods that hold the cocoa beans. Farmers in the cooperative receive the seedlings for free once they have grown to a height of two or three feet. The farmers later bring back their cocoa fruits to be inspected, have the cocoa beans and pulp extracted, and the beans are then weighed and bought by the co-op.
Once the beans are at the co-op, they are harvested from the fruit and go through a five-day, multi-step process of fermentation. Then they are spread out to dry in a shaded area, as too much sunlight can damage the beans. But too little sunlight can fail to dry them, in which case the co-operative employees spread the beans out over an oven to dry them. Inspected once again, the seeds are bagged and stored until they are sent to cocoa producers all over the world.
Lutheran World Relief (LWR), partnering with local agencies, has supplied the co-operative with equipment, provided training in producing higher yields, constructed test sites on which to determine the best tree specimens and farming techniques, and equipped some of the farmers to be teachers so that they can travel around the region and share what they have learned with other farmers. Since the co-operative we visited was started, production has increased significantly and the number of farms in the co-op continues to grow, spreading the benefits of the shared resources to more and more farmers.
Five years ago, for instance, before this project started, the annual yield of the cooperative we visited was 1000 lbs. a year. Today, that yield is closer to 10,000 lbs. That ten-fold increase in production in just five years is a result of the very hard work of the farmers and, in part, the support LWR has been able to offer because of your generosity.
Even with such success, the farmers continue to have to work extremely hard to make a decent living in a country where 70% of the population lives below the poverty level. Typically, farmers receive about 4 cents for every dollar you and I pay for a chocolate bar. Fair trade groups, of which this co-operative is a part, are able to raise this to 6 to 7 cents on the dollar. While that is still a small amount, that additional 50% or more makes an incredible difference to farmers.”
As I mentioned, it was another incredible day. And knowing a little more about where chocolate comes from and the farmers who work so hard to produce it, as well as seeing first-hand the difference it makes to buy fair trade, I don’t think I’ll ever eat chocolate that doesn’t have the fair trade label on it again.