How a Green + Black's Chocolate Bar Saved a Mayan Community From Destruction


Green + Black's Chocolate is possibly the best chocolate in the world, those of you lucky enough to have tried some must agree with me. I eat so much of the stuff I should stand up and proudly say my name is Leonora and I am addicted to Green + Black's chocolate. Fortunately for me, and some cacao farmers in Belize, my addiction has some very good side affects, and you can't say that about many addictions can you! Andrew Purvis writes in today's Observer 'Green & Black's Maya Gold, the first British Fairtrade product, is more than an organic chocolate bar - it's the livelihood for a whole district of Belize.' He went to Belize recently to visit the community whose lives were transformed by the demand for Green +Black's organic chocolate. In 1993 Craig Sams, the founder of Green & Black's, contacted the Toledo Cacao Growers' Association (TCGA) hoping that the Mayan cacao farmers could supply the beans for his chocolate.Purvis tells the story: 'The deal was accepted and, in 1994, Maya Gold was awarded the Fairtrade mark - the first British product to carry it. To this day, Green & Black's buys all the organic cacao produced in the Toledo district, paying the farmers a minimum price of US$1,600 (£900) per metric tonne, a Fairtrade premium of US$150 a tonne to be invested in social projects, and an organic premium of US$200 a tonne to cover the costs of Soil Association certification. It also funds 27 extension officers, local people trained in agronomy, nursery management, IT and administration. According to Gregor Hargrove, Green & Black's Canadian project manager, 92 cents of every dollar the farmers earn goes to their families - 'the highest return for any agricultural product'.'

While there are many social and environmental benefits to this Fair Trade success story, strangely it's the popularity of Maya Gold that is threatening it's continued success. The supply and demand is proving difficult to keep up with as organic cacao is being cultivated in small quantities in Toledo and Green + Black's are already using up all of it. Craig Sams says, '"Globally, we are talking about a desperate race to get organic up and running,'" In Belize alone, farmers will have to increase their output tenfold in the next five or six years, from 30 tonnes a year now to 300 by 2012, just to provide the cacao for use in Maya Gold.' Hope has flourished recently with the discovery of a lost plantation which hadn't been touched since about 1910 and which has perfectly spaced matured cacao trees. Gregor Hargrove tells us that, 'It pre-dates the whole system of cacao produced with agrochemicals.'

Maya Gold has rescued the cacao growing community in Toledo from poverty after a disastrous programme in the 1980s which tried to 'boost the fortunes of Toledo's cacao growers by providing bank loans for seed and agrochemicals.' They were given an alien hybrid seed rather than one they'd been farming for centuries. Furthermore the plants were badly spaced, and the crops failed leaving the farmers to pay off huge debts. While the Fair Trade label for Maya Gold has undoubtedly helped the community Craig Sams is not convinced that it is the best way forward.

'The Fairtrade Foundation charges Green & Black's a commission of two per cent on its Maya Gold sales (amounting to £500,000 over 12 years), in order to carry the Fairtrade mark. In the Dominican Republic and elsewhere, says Sams, 'it's more effective for us to invest the money directly in supporting our suppliers'. He is sceptical too about the Fairtrade regulations. '"I could market a chocolate drink made with milk from cows fed on genetically-engineered grain and soybeans, pumped up with Monsanto's BST [bovine growth] hormone, sweetened with corn syrup from Roundup Ready [herbicide-tolerant GM] corn, and then use Fairtrade cacao powder and qualify for Fairtrade certification."'

Green + Black's are also unhappy with the charges levied on the farmers by the Fairtrade organisation. They are charged for 'the cost of inspection visits by Fairtrade officials, including food, local travel and accommodation, plus a percentage levy on the cacao it ships to Europe.' But while these regulations don't make sense to Green + Black's 'Justino Peck, chairman of the TCGA, fully endorses the Fairtrade mark for the social stability it brings. "If not for the Fairtrade deal, a lot of farmers would have moved away," he believes, "breaking up families and communities. They would have to go away and work on shrimp or citrus farms because there is no other industry here. Being able to sell a product to a definite market means we can stay."' via: The Observer Food Monthly ::Greens+Black's.