Article Courtesy Of: http://www.globalexchange.org/...
In today's world economy, where profits rule and small-scale farmers are left out of the bargaining process, prices are allowed to fluctuate rapidly and can fall so low that small-scale farmers are left without the resources or hope to continue. Fortunately, Fair Trade allows farmers to escape from this cycle and maintain their traditional lifestyles with dignity. Fair Trade ensures a minimum price of $.80/pound under long-term contracts, access to credit, and prohibits abusive child labor and forced labor. Fair Trade farmers are required to reserve a portion of their revenues for social projects, ensuring that community development and technical training for farmers will always be possible. Fair Trade also promotes environmentally sustainable practices such as shade cultivation, composting, and minimization of chemical inputs, ensuring that farmers use cultivation techniques that are safe for the environment and public health.
The story of Toledo Cacao Growers Association (TCGA) is a perfect example of how much Fair Trade makes a difference. The cooperative has about 126 members and is located in the Toledo region of Belize, which is the poorest in district in the country. It is also the southernmost district and has the largest population of Maya people (both Ketchi and Mopan). Agriculture is a central part of Belize's economy and citrus, bananas, sugar, rice, honey, and timber are its major crops. Though cocoa production is comparatively lower in amount, It is very important for TCGA's producers because it is their main source of income.
The Beginnings of TCGA
The cooperative was formed in 1986 in order to yield higher prices, improve living conditions, and help farmers increase the quality of their cocoa. TCGA's cocoa is grown organically and under a canopy of shade trees including valuable timbers of mahogany, cedar and teak. Farmers also use sustainable methods such as composting and typically grow a diversity of other food crops among their cocoa. These ecological methods have helped the community and the natural environment in many ways. Organic production keeps the river water pesticide-free. The preserved shade canopy makes the area a good carbon sink and supports a wide variety of natural species, including at least 187 kinds of birds. Crop diversity helps the cocoa resist disease. Most importantly, it provides farmers with their own food as well as alternate income sources.
Until the early 1990s TCGA's farmers earned enough from their cocoa to buy clothes, basic necessities and a variety of foods. They also worked hard to increase the size of their cocoa stocks because they expected prices to stay at good levels. However, the price of cocoa was suddenly cut in half between 1992 and 1993, falling below the cost of production. The cooperative was able to market their cocoa and obtain loans since they were well-organized . However, many farmers left their crops unharvested and some even left their farms to seek other work because they worried that the low prices would continue. Cayetano Ico, chairman of the TCGA in 1999, explains: " the price we could get for our cocoa was so low it was not worth harvesting. Many of us abandoned our trees. Some farmers went off in search of work on plantations. It was a very difficult time for us."
The Fair Trade Market
Fortunately, a chocolate company from the United Kingdom called Green and Black's offered a long-term contract for a stable supply of quality cocoa. They agreed to buy all the cocoa TCGA could produce at an above-market price. The cocoa was used to create Maya Gold Chocolate, which was introduced in March 1994 bearing the Fairtrade Mark, denoting Fair Trade certification in the UK. TCGA continues to be successful in the international market. According to the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, TCGA produced 28.6 tons of organic cocoa beans in 1998 and 22.2 tons in 1999, all of which were sold through the Fair Trade market. However, they are still getting market prices for their non-organic cocoa, which represents the majority of their output. The cooperative is working to increase organic yield by expanding their membership and technical training and is also looking for additional buyers.
Benefits of Fair Trade
Fair Trade income has benefited the cooperative as a whole in many ways, such as providing the funds for administrative staff and technical workshops on production, pest control, and shade management. In 1999, TCGA also paid to broadcast on a weekly local radio program, encouraging cocoa farmers to plant new cocoa trees and to establish nurseries. The long-term contracts Fair Trade offers have given the farmers the confidence to make long term plans to improve their production. Many who had abandoned their crops have now returned to their home communities to resume their traditional, sustainable lifestyles.
For many individual families, Fair Trade premiums have meant the difference between being able to send children to school and having to keep them at home to work. In the Toledo region, school can be quite expensive. Parents have to pay for uniforms, books, and food at school and children in the secondary grades must take a long bus ride to school. Anastasia, a mother of 7 children, said: "The oldest is already in high school. We hope that all the children will go to school because of the money we receive from growing cacao. Currently we have 2 to 3 acres and are planting more."
Future Plans for TCGA
Though Fair Trade has certainly improved the lives of TCGA's members in many ways, they still sell the majority of their crop to the conventional market, where prices are not high enough to allow them to save money or cover more than their basic daily expenses. As a result, they still have many challenges and needs that they cannot meet due to lack of funding. Many farmers are still rebuilding their farms after crop destruction caused by heavy rainfalls during Hurricane Mitch and all are faced with some loss from plant diseases. In addition, homes in the region are still without electricity so cooking is done over an indoor fire and light comes only from dim kerosene lamps. Some homes still have only thatched roofs and dirt floors, offering little protection from heavy weather.
The cooperative is working to increase Fair Trade revenues by expanding the farmers' technical knowledge and understanding of Fair Trade. As Cayetano Ico, Chairman of TCGA and farmer has stated, "Our objectives for the next years are to improve the quality of cocoa to satisfy market demands and to promote production of organic cocoa among our members, to promote education and awareness concerning the eco-system and to diversify production. Through the income of Fairtrade, we manage to solve specific quality problems and to improve the functioning of our organisation. We still need to learn a lot and gain experience in trading and marketing. Fairtrade gives us this possibility."
If TCGA's efforts are to be fruitful, demand for Fair Trade must increase at the same time. By buying Fair Trade chocolate and advocating for it in our communities and beyond, we can be true partners in the effort to bring cocoa farmers the additional Fair Trade revenues they need so much. Get involved today!