Magazine article New Internationalist

Chocolate Saves the World! [Small Percentage of Price of Chocolate Bar Goes to African Farmer, but Small Increase in Price of Cocoa Would Make a Big Difference to Farmers]

Magazine article New Internationalist

Chocolate Saves the World! [Small Percentage of Price of Chocolate Bar Goes to African Farmer, but Small Increase in Price of Cocoa Would Make a Big Difference to Farmers]

Article excerpt

The ironies that surround the cocoa chain are legion. Kids in cocoa villages never taste chocolate. Cocoa farmers -- as British immigration made plain to Asamoah -- are not meant to travel the route of their beans. In the cocoa markets of London and New York there is no cocoa to be seen and most of what is traded is fictional. The pleasure of eating chocolate is accompanied by obsessions with fat, body-image, binge-eating, pimples and general low-level guilt. Perhaps most poignantly of all, Big Chocolate wants to reduce still further the presence of the magic bean in its product. Chocolate without chocolate.

All such ironies are shaped or misshapen by the market. But there are markets -- and then there are markets. In the vast Kumasi market, where Asamoah's daughter Gloria sells her tomatoes and onions, you can buy almost anything, but no chocolate or even cocoa beans. These markets are quite different from the long-distance export market that trades cocoa before the pods even sprout from the trees. A drought may shift prices dramatically, but ultimately it is projections of demand and supply by Big Chocolate, using all the paraphernalia of modern research technology and commercial calculation, that decide price. It's a contest of unequals, with the end buyer and seller barely even aware of each other's existence. The difference in life-experience between a dealer on the New York Commodity Exchange with a six-figure salary, and someone who owns a small cocoa farm in West Africa, is too vast even to contemplate. Yet gaining competitive position for one may put the very survival of the other into question.

African markets are not like this. Here people look each other in the eye, discuss the quality of the goods, what is fair and what each party can afford. If the product doesn't meet up to expectations the buyer can return to complain directly. If the seller thinks the price offered is just too low there are usually other customers willing to pay a more reasonable price. Prices more or less fit the needs of human survival. There is an honesty and an equality here. So when next you hear the 'free market' being lionized, make sure to inquire which market the speaker has in mind.

Serious efforts are being made to introduce fairness into international trade. These are closely tied to the production of high-quality chocolate. Farmers' co-ops like Kuapa, fair-traders like Twin and fair-trade producers like Gepa, Cooperacion, Green and Black's and a number of others -- mostly in continental Europe -- are leading the way. In Canada and the US you can get Masaco chocolate from Bolivian cocoa, in Australia it's Force 10 from Samoan cocoa and Trade Aid chocolate in Aotearoa. But a better price for cocoa remains far down the priority list of Big Chocolate, where trends are the same as those throughout the global corporate economy: merger mania, restructuring to reduce costs, and the battle for market share, mostly through the promotion of heavily-advertized, low-cocoa-content chocolate bars and candies. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.