Contributor: Tom Ellum
Ever since the Aztecs used cacao beans to brew their first xocoatl, we’ve been hooked on chocolate. By 2016, almost 4m tonnes of cocoa was being consumed, the majority of which comes from West Africa – one of the poorest regions in the world. In the same year the price dropped from $3,000 to $2,000 per tonne. This rapid fall in prices increased poverty, deforestation, and child labour – a lower market price for cocoa, meant a higher price for communities and the environment.
Volatile prices also discouraged farmers from adopting environmentally friendly growing techniques – 1m people now live and grow cocoa in nature reserves and protected areas – or replanting their aging cocoa trees. New trees are desperately needed, given the average age of cocoa trees in West Africa is over 20 years. The cocoa farmers themselves are not getting any younger either, as youngsters who have seen their parents toil reject farming as a livelihood.
This situation is not sustainable. Heske Verburg, Director of Solidaridad in Europe, explains: ‘A living income for farmers is the most important indicator for a sustainable cocoa sector. Cocoa and chocolate companies need to find ways to redistribute value along the production chain. Together they can guarantee a living income for farmers.’ However, this isn’t happening – in fact, whilst profits of large companies go up, the situation of cocoa farmers is deteriorating. However, this is does not need to be the case. There are exceptions, such as Asante Mama and The Epicurious Hedgehog, who are working with Storimarket to bring fair and sustainable cocoa products to the UK.
Storimarket works with Asante Mama who produce a variety of raw and roasted cocoa beans on the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda and The Epicurious Hedgehog, based in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, who produce cacao nibs, cocoa powder and natural cocoa flavouring. If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between cocoa and cacao, it’s all down to heat: cocoa is heated at a higher temperature, making it sweeter but also decreasing its antioxidants and nutrients. However, the real difference is not the products themselves, but how they are produced fairly and sustainably.
Asante Mama and The Epicurious Hedgehog both support their smallholder farmers with subsidised inputs and technical assistance as well as buying direct, which helps them ensure they provide a living income. As Sharon, area manager for Asante Mama, says, ‘If the farmers, aren’t well. We’re not well.’ They also promote environmentally friendly farming practices, such as insisting that smallholder farmers plant trees and encouraging a mix of crops to be planted. Asante Mama even devotes ten acres of their farm to forest, providing a habitat for monkeys, the crescent crane – the national bird of Uganda, featured on the flag – and even snakes.
By having a long-term, direct relationship with their farmers, Asante Mama and The Epicurious Hedgehog are not only providing them with a better life, but also helping to protect the environment.
Read more about Asante Mama and The Epicurious Hedgehog, as well as other Storimarket producers at www.storimarket.com/blogs/stories. Storimarket’s mission is to allow everywhere to trade in a way that is fair, environmentally-friendly and socially impactful.
Bio: Tom Ellum is the founder of Storimarket – an online platform to connect smallholder farmers to UK customers. Storimarket works with small food producers who have long-term, direct and fair relationships with smallholder farmers. This means food with produced in a way that protects the environment and builds communities.