From the Caribbean to the North Sea, a Journey to Sustainable Development

No one questions chocolate’s unbeatable power of seduction. However, many condemn the lack of environmental and social justice surrounding this industry. Basilio Almonte took part in the Fair Trade Fortnight in Scotland to promote the fair trade cocoa cooperative (CONACADO) in the Dominican Republic. The people of Scotland, well aware of local and ethical trade, welcomed the Caribbean. Cosmopolita Scotland accompanied Basilio on his visit to the Orkney Isles.


Jordi Albacete

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Easter is the time of the year for chocolate. Many kids excitedly await their chocolate eggs. Understandably, they are not aware of the swindle hidden behind the business of this seemingly innocent seasonal treat.

Alarm bells are ringing in the global cocoa markets. Cocoa shortage is forecast to become a real possibility within the next 5 years. However, the public has little knowledge about the hidden drivers and impacts of this complex industry.

Only between 2012-13 nearly 4 million tones of cocoa were produced in the world. The British consume more than 660 thousand bars of chocolate a year. This huge market has been very volatile in recent years putting at serious risk for many producers in their home countries.

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Multinational companies such as, Nestle, Mars Incorporated, Cargill, ADM and Barry Callebart have established their businesses in some of the most deprived countries in the word (eg: Ivory Coast, Ghana or Dominican Republic). Nevertheless, this profitable business hasn’t helped these countries to overcome poverty.

70% of the world’s food is produced by 500 million small farmers, according to Oxfam. However, many of them remain trapped in chronic poverty while buyers enjoy the fruits of their labour.

The concentration of massive cocoa monocultures in the hands of multinationals leads farmers to accept a purchase price, paid to them by intermediaries, which is far lower than the market price. Often this leads to human rights violations such as child labour.

The 2010 documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate shows trafficking of children in cocoa plantations on the Ivory Coast. (you can watch the documentary below).
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CONACADO, a story of success

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Basilio Almonte working as a technician in a cocoa farm.

 Basilio comes from a humble rural community in the Dominican Republic (the second poorest country in the Caribbean). The island has a wealth of resources (1) for human pleasure: tourists are seduced by its paradisical beaches and a large part of the world craves its most sought-after delicacies (2) in our globalized culture: chocolate.

 His life is closely linked to cocoa. He grew up helping his father in the cultivation of this fruit. When he was 14 he began a career that would lead him to become the technical manager of an important fair trade network, cocoa cooperatives (CONACADO), with over 9,000 producers.

The Caribbean has experienced first hand the paradox that surrounds the chocolate business. While large multinationals and corporations increased their multimillionaire profits, his community remained in extreme poverty, without access to drinking water.

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The Dominican Republic, with a population of 10.4 million, has more than 40,000 farmers who depend on the export of cocoa cultivation. In 2014 it exported 69,000 tonnes. This Caribbean country is a world leader in the export of organic cocoa. Despite this thriving business, cocoa producers receive a tiny percentage of this money for their crops due to the unbalanced relationship between the intermediaries and growers.

The highest minimum wage in the Dominican Republic is £174 (€238). This is not even enough to buy the products of the Market Basket, a selected list of food and household items, which provides a representative sample of common consumer purchases.

To challenge this injustice, the fair trade cocoa cooperative CONACADO has become an alternative to produce more sustainably.

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Shared Benefits

Just until a few years ago, in Basilio’s village, houses did not have drinking water and the schools were located in damped and leaking barracks.

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One of the main advantages of fair trade is its contribution to sustainable development. In addition to setting a price and a minimum salary it obliges producers to reinvest a certain amount per tonne back into the community infrastructure and services (£185 in the Dominican Republic). This means that farmers can invest in equipment to make their crops more productive.

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The minimum price for producers ensures that they can maintain sustainable cultivation practices favouring organic crops. For example, CONACADO produces a total of 15,000 tonnes of cocoa each year, of which 80 per cent is organic.

Basilio’s task is enormous (3). The success of his fellow members’ crops will allow the communities to reinvest the profits into the basic infrastructure of their production, not only contributing towards the minimum local services, but also improving productivity.

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Thanks to this social premium that CONACADO reinvests, last year fair trade was able to build fermentation and drying plants for the cocoa beans.

This money has helped to improve the welfare of the community, creating new job and training opportunities. For example, one of the investments consisted of hiring 30 technicians to train growers. Also, roads were repaired to pick up and deliver cocoa from these centres drying plants.

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Improvements in education infrastructure have been crucial. While traditionally barracks were used as schools, now new buildings have been erected. In addition, there are new grant schemes for the most deprived students. Regarding health infrastructure, a new rural hospital has been built, providing free medical tests and drinking water.

In order to better understand the impact that this market has on the life of the small Dominican farmers, the Fair Trade Foundation and the Scottish Fair Trade Forum invited Basilio Almonte to take part in the Fair Trade Fortnight in Scotland.

A day in the Orkney Isles

Scotland spent 24 hours in the Orkney Isles with fair trade cocoa grower, Basilio Almonte. His work shows how sustainable trading can challenge the stigma of poverty.During his visit Basilio talked to adults and children about the CONACADO project. He outlined the impacts that fair trade brings to the life of the communities and their surrounding environments.

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When we arrived, a member of the local group of trade fair, Pirjo Little, invited us for dinner at her house to introduce us to the Orcadian cuisine (a mashed potatoes with fish, and a sweet cream with fudge). The ingredients are locally produced. Pirjo and her husband Stuart told us how self-sufficiency is a deeply rooted value in the islands.

The slogan for the campaigners is: ‘Buy fair, buy local in Orkney’. Small businesses in these islands have had to cope with the emergence of superstores. This has empowered campaigners to claim for local and global justice, understanding the challenges that impoverished growers face in the South.

Pirjo told us how the “everyone together” character of these islanders has taught the inhabitants that the economic development drivers are similar for both local producers and impoverished  cocoa growers.

Pirjo and Stuart had many questions for Basilio about how the most deprived communities have benefited from CONACADO’s project. The couple knows first-hand the needs of poor farmers; they lived working in the health services in Nepal for nearly 10 years.

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Capilla italiana en Orkney.

The same evening we went to a church to meet local farmers. They were eager to learn many things from the producers who grow cocoa that they consume in the form of chocolate bars.

The Islanders wanted to understand how climate change has affected them and how the role of the most disadvantaged farmers in the management and administration of the business is integrated.

The next day on a jam-packed tour (4) between the two ends of the island, Stromness to Kirkwall, we visited rural primary schools. Lorna Penny, a former teacher, was our guide. On the road, she explained how the local campaigning group has mobilized to influence local authorities. Their aim still is to protect local shops from the competition of large retailers and enhance the distribution of fair trade products.

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Basilio en una escuela de primaria en Orkney.

Students at the age of 5 are already very active. They are taught the importance of the balance of the global economy and the need to promote social and environmental justice.

In schools they have different projects and awareness raising days where they come up with (5) menus for their kitchens by identifying the origin of the foods that are used.

At each school, Basilio was pleasantly surprised both by the training and the proactivity of these children.The work of local groups is essential to consolidate fair trade projects.

Adam Gardner, Coordinator of community campaigns and Manager of the Fairtrade Foundation, says: “It is thanks to the support of these groups that currently more than 1.5 million farmers and workers around the world, including Basilio, benefit from the fair trade system”.

Scotland is a clear example of how this awareness has been forged from the local level.

Scotland, a Fairtrade Nation

[cml_media_alt id='1357']Scotland a Fair Trade Nation[/cml_media_alt]Scotland has a long tradition of solidarity. The first specialised fair trade shops in the United Kingdom were established in Scotland at the beginning of the 1980s.

Local consciousness made many small groups organize themselves to put pressure on the authorities.

Thanks to this grassroots mobilization with the support of the Scottish Executive the Scottish Fair Trade Forum was formed in 2007 (see the video below filmed in 2012, a year before Scotland achieved the Fair Trade Nation status).

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This platform aimed to promote the commitment of all public and private stakeholders in standardization and the increase in fair trade in Scotland.

That goal was achieved in 2013, with Scotland earning the new status of a Fair Trade Nation. This official recognition encourages authorities and local groups to ensure that fair trade is protected in Scotland, especially in the public services (hospitals, schools, citizen service agencies, etc.).

Sophie Tolley, Community Engagement Officer of the Scottish Fair Trade Forum appreciates all the advances that have been made in the past 20 years. However, despite the positive assessment Sophie also underlines that the commercial management is still not working for the poorest farmers in the global South: “we want to bring more benefits to farmers and workers in the fair trade system and make sure that we can support those who are in a more vulnerable situation”.

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Since the 1990s some of fair trade certificates were extended to multinational companies, a new stream of criticism started to review the effectiveness of fair trade delivering social justice.

The new situation added rigidity of requirements and the difficulty of access to markets for the smallholders.

A study by the American Foundation Equal Exchange revealed how in some cases, the certifications in places of mass monocultures prevented the fierce price competition that other producers were selling to big traders.

Overshadowing the benefits brought by fair trade to deprived small-holders can have devastating effects. Paradoxically, while overconsumption continues to grow, there is still reason for optimism.

The younger generations, thanks to the work undertook by small local groups started a few decades ago, have now enough information about the production and food distribution chains to foster a critical stand. It may well be that a new consciousness is already emerging to criticize and act on the roots of over-consumption.

And as Basilio and the people of Orkney have shown, global justice does not understand frontiers and well crosses oceans from the Caribbean to the North Sea.

Use of English for Spanish Speakers

(1) Has a wealth of resources.

  • Definition: a great profusion
  • Example: “The island has a wealth of resources for the human pleasures […]”
  • Translation: abundancia de algo, en este caso de recursos.
  • Comment: Wealth of resources is the expression used to say “una cantera de recursos”. If we want to translate this literally then we will use “a quarry of resources”. However this doesn’t sound natural in English and instead the words well and wealth are used.

(2) Sought-after delicacies.

  • Definition: greatly desired
  • Example: “[…] large part of the world succumbs to one of the most sought-after delights in our globalized culture: chocolate”
  • Translation: deseado, buscado
  • Comment: This expression is used to speak about something that is in demand. It is also frequently quoted in the news when talking about someone or something that is being search for [Suspect sought-after stealing, suspect vehicle sought-after bank robbery]

(3) Task is enormous

  • Comment: In Spanish it is often said big or huge responsibility when it is meant a big or an important mission. In  English responsibility is an inherent quality of human character and therefore not measurable. It is more appropriate to use task.

(4) A jam-packed tour.

  • Definition: crowded, packed, filled to capacity.
  • Translation: a tope. 
  • Example: “The next day on a jam-packed tour between the two ends of the island, Stromness to Kirkwall, we visited rural primary schools.”
  • Comment: In the context of a short tour “jam-packed” means a very busy and fast tour (maratoniano in the Spanish version of this article). 

(5) Come up with.

  • Translation: Inventarse, elaborar, conseguir.
  • Example: “In schools they have different projects and awareness raising days where they come up with menus for their kitchens“.
  • Comment: Often used to indicate  the creation and/or achievement of a proposal, plan, work, idea or thought. 


Autor: Jordi Albacete

I am an environmental journalist. My passion for the protection of human and environmental rights has been inspired by research led journalism. My ambition is to communicate and inspire people to make positive changes in the environment. Twitter @albacetejordi or Linkedin.

Periodista medioambiental. Mi pasión por la protección de los derechos humanos y medioambientales se ha forjado a través de la investigación periodística. Mi objetivo es comunicar e inspirar a la gente para hacer cambios positivos y proteger el medioambiente. Twitter @albacetejordi o Linkedin.

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