Posted in Kafevend Blog
Welcome to the Kafevend blog- if you were with us a couple of Saturdays ago, don't worry, we haven't put up the same blog twice- whilst we are returning to the Dominican Republic, this week we are going to take a look at the nation's cocoa industry as opposed to its coffee.
There are around 40,000 cocoa farmers in the Dominican Republic, predominantly growing the crop on a small scale. The average farm is just 4.3 hectares, compared to an average size of 50 hectares here in England and an impressive 100 hectares over the border in Scotland. Of these 40,000 farmers, just over a quarter belong to various co-operatives that in turn form a union known as CONACADO (the Confederación Nacional de Cacao cultores Dominicanos- it's not too hard to decipher!). CONACADO sells the cocoa produced by its members to various export markets, but in recent years almost half of the produce has been sold to the Fairtrade market.
Alongside providing a better income for the cocoa farmers, the extra money generated from the Fairtrade sales have provided a number of benefits for the CONACADO members. These range from the ever important staples such as providing access to clean water and healthcare to education. The education is useful for all members, as it includes schools for the farmers' children but also help for the farmers themselves, such as teaching improved techniques for growing cocoa that help to both increase yields but also farm in a sustainable manner.
This means the farmers of CONACADO use the much vaunted shade grown technique. The cocoa is grown intermingled with other plants. Tall trees provide shade, whilst trees such as banana and avocado provide another source of both food and revenue, as the surplus can be taken to market. Utilising the shade grown technique as opposed to a cultivating monoculture (growing a single crop) has positive effects on the environment. It provides habitat for creatures such as birds which in turn act as natural pest control, as they eat them! This in turn means that potentially harmful pesticides are not needed, which keeps water clean. The thick foliage also prevents soil erosion, which can be a major problem in monocultures, particularly on hillside farms where water will wash away loose soil downhill.
Cocoa from the Dominican Republic has been lower grade fare in the past, but groups such as CONACADO have been helping to improve the quality and image of the nation's cocoa in the world's eyes. Anyone who enjoys the superb chocolate made by Green and Black's may be pleased to know that they buy lots of their Fairtrade chocolate from growers in the Dominican Republic, which certainly attests to the improving quality.