Bitter and Sweet Dreams

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Published on December 17th, 2010  |  Discuss This Article  

Swiss parents have no qualms about giving their young children chocolate, even before bedtime. Why? It’s not that they are genetically programmed to process the stuff without getting hyper. No, it’s more a matter of purity, as the Swiss have long known. The higher the content of cacao in a piece of chocolate, the lower the sugar content. So the next time you’re wandering in the candy isle of your local grocery store, you might want to take a good look at the percentage of cacao listed on the package and make your decision accordingly.

Something else you might want to consider is the source of the product and the conditions under which the cacao was produced. The FairTrade label, increasingly seen on higher-value products, might also help you to sleep well at night. And thanks to a decade of work, The Nature Conservancy is helping to give you more options to make a responsible purchase.

FairTrade certification lets buyers know that the beans used to make their chocolate have been cultivated, harvested, dried and roasted to meet rigorous standards for environmental quality and social equity. In exchange, growers are provided with a “price floor,” or a guaranteed minimum purchase price for their products.

Throughout the tropics Fairtrade is altering the traditional terms of exchange between producers and processors of cacao, enabling growers to retain a greater proportion of the revenue ultimately created by their crops. According to a confectionery trade publication, products with Fairtrade and organic certification are the fastest growing segment of the multi-billion dollar chocolate market. Good news for discriminating chocolate lovers.

Most Fairtrade products come from the Caribbean and Central or South America. That may soon begin to change. The Adelberts Cooperative Society in Papua New Guinea recently received its Fairtrade certificate for its cacao beans, marking the culmination of a 10-year relationship between The Nature Conservancy and 23 communities. The Conservancy provided the communities with training and technical assistance throughout the long and laborious process of developing a sustainable land use plan. That plan — a foundational element in the Fairtrade certification process — has now enabled the communities to chart a new path to economic development. It’s an approach that doesn’t rely on overexploitation of the natural environment, but rather one that makes sustainable land management profitable for in the long-term.

Interestingly, enhancing the economic opportunities of rural communities such as those in the Adelberts is taking on increased significance in a climate-conscious world. At last week’s climate conference in Cancun, delegates came closer to integrating a mechanism called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD)+ into a legally binding global agreement. REDD+ will essentially compensate tropical forested countries for making measureable reductions in their deforestation rates and the carbon dioxide emissions that are associated with land clearing.

For this to work, new development strategies that adequately balance economic, social and environmental objectives will be required. In Papua New Guinea, a country that stands to gain significantly from REDD+, FairTrade-certified cacao and other responsibly harvested products — such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified timber — may be an increasingly important part of its future.

Through our purchasing preferences, consumers have an important role to play in shaping land management practices and rewarding innovative producers, such as the Adelberts communities. Shortly, I expect to see cacao from the Adelberts Cooperative Society on the shelf in my local grocery store, and I’ll be able to express my preference for a 72% cacao, Fairtrade-certified chocolate bar.

(Image: A local villager examines Cocoa pods hanging from a tree in the Adelbert Mountain Range of Papua New Guinea’s Madang Province. The seeds from the Cocoa pod are used to produce chocolate and growing them is an increasingly important source of revenue for small villages in the Adelbert Mountain range. The Nature Conservancy has developed strong relationships with local landowners, the Provincial Government and non-governmental organizations in the Adelbert Mountain area to secure lasting conservation of Papua New Guinea’s tropical forests. Image Credit: Mark Godfrey/TNC)

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