Hello and good day!
As you may already know, we buy cacao from a little over 500 small-hold, family owned, cacao farms. The average size of the farms we buy from is 3 - 10 acres.
In certain parts of Peru, there are vast plantations. But not where we do business.
Where we do business is so far off the beaten path that it would not make sense to put a plantation out there. It makes a lot more sense to put a plantation near a main thoroughfare so that you can easily ship the produce.
Big plantations are generally monocropped, meaning that the farm is made up primarily of a single crop. This is true of cacao farms in Peru and in many other parts of the world as well.However, monocropping is not limited to big plantations.
You see monocropping on small-hold farms as well, in Peru, and especially in the high-volume African cacao producing countries. The two highest volume producers of cacao in the world are Ivory Coast and Ghana, which incredibly make up 60% of the world's cacao production.
Most of the world's chocolate is made with cacao from those two countries. That is an extraordinary fact, especially when you consider it while looking at a map of the world. Those are not big countries relative to the entire world of chocolate consumers.
If you ever find yourself interested in a good documentary about chocolate, Bitter Chocolate, a part of the Rotten series on Netflix, is a fascinating look at cacao farming practices in Africa.
One of the key stats that has stuck with me from Bitter Chocolate is that a cacao tree takes 7 years to mature in many parts of those two countries. That is a long time.
Given that African farmers are subject to prices set by a government price board and cannot negotiate higher prices for their crops, the only way for them to make more money is to plant more trees. But they can't get an increase in production for seven long years.The situation is so dire that many farmers break into wildlife preserves and illegally start farming there.
It only takes 3 years for a tree to mature in the wildlife preserves.
Where we operate, it takes 2-3 years. Many trees are producing cacao that can be used in chocolate in just two years, but all trees are ready within three years. There are several reasons why it takes so long for a tree to mature in the heavy cacao producing regions.
But the underlying reason is that soil is stripped of nutrients.
This is the result of monocropping and using industrial hybrid cacao trees. Industrial hybrids strip the soil in order to produce large quantities of cacao. This provides a short-term gain in higher production volumes, but it exacts a long-term price because trees take longer to mature and synthetic fertilizers must be purchased an applied to keep the trees producing.
The other big problem with monocropping is malnutrition. There simply isn't enough food to eat because all of the land is dedicated to growing a single plant that the farmers don't even end up eating.
One of the things we've always been proud of is the cultural dedication to agroforestry where we buy cacao. You almost never see a monocropped farm.
Cacao is almost always growing in the context of the jungle. The one exception to this is rice farming. But even so, rice farming usually only occupies a portion of a farm, not the entire farm.
On a single plot of land, you might find 20 or 30 different trees growing.This biodiversity leads to vibrant soil where crops flourish.
Pretty much every visitor we've ever taken to visit the zone where we operate feels like they've stepped into a garden wonder land. You navigate through thick bush where all the vegetation is filled up with edible fruits and vegetables that you can pluck right off the tree and eat.
Malnutrition is not something people suffer from where we buy cacao. They tend to suffer from ailments that require medicine. They sometimes have a hard time finding a good school for their kids.
But there is always enough to eat out on these farms. Livestock flourishes and there is an abundance of food. Multi-crop farms also provide protection against swings in commodity prices.If you farm cacao and coffee and rice and raise cattle, if the price of one goes down, the others may be up.
If all you farm is cacao and the price of cacao goes down or the government board is bribed by big, powerful, corporations to set the price low, you are trapped.
Agroforestry is good for the natural environment too. There are large swaths of the Amazon jungle, especially in Brazil, that are being decimated to raise more cattle so we can all eat more beef. I have no moral qualms about folks wanting to eat more beef, but clear cutting the Amazon in order to achieve that goal is short sighted in my opinion.
The biodiversity of the Amazon is good for humanity in the long run. That is my opinion anyway. However, what goes on in Brazil is out of our control.
The only thing that is really in our control is our own actions and to the extent possible, supporting agroforestry is a good thing. I realize it isn't always possible. In some cases, we just have to get enough calories into the world for us to all survive.But that isn't always the case.
Anyhow, thank you so much for giving me a moment of your time today. I hope that you have a truly blessed day!