Weeds weeds weeds. Everywhere I look there are weeds, not only on plantation, but a little bit in my heart. Some feelings of insecurity crept up into my heart over the last months as I just have such big visions for better chocolate industry and I have consulted some large companies with ways to improve their practice, even just getting better procurement standards on their chocolate and cacao-related ingredients. As the price of cacao keeps rising (due to increased demand from new chocolate demand economies like china and brazil) and reduced supply (farmers leaving plantation and climate change) we have an eternally wacky situation where buyers for chocolate ingredients are just dropping their standard during buying. From cookie manufacturer to baker to others I won’t mention but just walk along and kick the dust as I don’t believe that dropping standards for ingredients is the way to solve this problem.
It’s not the manufacturer fault, it is the big picture. For bakers and manufactures to survive they have three options – take our ingredients and increase their sale price, reduce their product size or reduce quality. I am sure you know of some brands which have done some of these in the last years. If the global market continues to increase by 2% every year, by 2020 we will need another million tonnes of cacao beans. This is the equivalent of another Ivory Coast, which is the largest cacao producing country and riddled with slave labour, child labour and fraud.
Efficiency and sustainability are the big topics. The more that larger manufacturers get us little guys in to advise, from the ‘ground’ about how to manage ingredient volumes, recipe influences and quality, there ARE creative ways to resolve this little gap while the bigger picture works on efficiently sustainable practices. We can’t fix the whole machine at once. It’s so overwhelming, I won’t tell you how many nights I toss in my bed thinking about the entire supply chain and places we can improve a few tweaks and get a better running system. The easiest place to start is to know what taste and flavour of cacao really is, and to re-engineer recipes from the base. Using less, better quality cacao is a classic quality-rich, resourceful way of influencing the tipping point. Demanding better means looking at the chocolate muffin we snarfed in that last meeting room, about looking at chocolate coatings on things, chocolate – flavoured products and looking for the familiar nuances you have learned (through our friendship!) about what cacao should taste and smell like. Demand better. Ask for source, not just of chocolate companies but those who keep us imprisoned in price wars, efficiency panics and delivery pressure.
Delivery pressure directly impacts farmers, like the guys I have the honour to work with, like my father, and his father. In Central America, severe drought has wiped out more than three million farmer families who face insolvency and an inability to harvest in the next 6 months. Teenagers are leaving the farm and going into industrialised jobs in cities to support their families, who under the impact of price pressure are fighting drought, seed safety (genetic manipulation of seeds causing land to rot etc) and unable to access financial assistance to see themselves through the next steps. Direct results of this are the signs of farms closing, malnutrition, crop hoarding, mistrust and kids either being shipped to schools elsewhere without their families, or not even getting close to an education. Strange choices by large financial institutions who back grain grants for crops that are mono-cultured and farmed, often not even food crops, in places they don’t belong because of incentives ensures that native seeds and fertility is robbed from the earth and any sense of balance will not be able to be restored. In both cacao and coffee we see disease and pest epidemics reminiscent of what my family saw in New Guinea in the 1970s (which shut down their coffee crop for some years).
Oh yeah, those grains and displaced crops are often involved in that big bakery craze of wheats and corns. Again, look beyond the packet. Beyond ‘organic’ and into what does this all taste like. How did it get here and who did it almost kill to occur.
It is when you just spend a moment, think about where and how you are consuming ‘food’ you will help us. It’s not just lunch. It is our livelihoods, passions, and families.
You do have the power. With the choice of where and how you shop. What and who you question. Thanks for considering.