Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Reflections About Supporting Cacao Farmers

I started this grad school program in social entrepreneurship and change because I wasn't simply interested in making money. I wanted to contribute to creating social change - to help empower those who are in a context that has confined their dreams and possibilities.

Last fall, I finally determined that I was interested in the chocolate business and so discovering that the majority of the world's chocolate comes from child slave labor was alarming to me. This problem seems to be coming from Africa - the Ivory Coast. But simply rescuing slaves can't be the only solution to this because there is still an increasing demand for chocolate globally. If the Ivory Coast remains a major producer supplying this demand, then the business of chocolate will always overshadow the ethics.

So I figure that if we can help create new producers of cocoa in other parts of the world, then we can deal with the human rights violations without the business pressures. For example, it's easier to tell chocolate lovers to buy from some where else as opposed to simply telling them not to buy chocolate at all. By shifting the supply, we take business away from the Ivory Coast. Then we can approach them differently. This part of the issue is beyond my own scope though. For me, I want to focus on supporting producers in the Philippines.

They've got their own issues too. With growing demand for quality cocoa, the Philippines has the potential for becoming a major supplier (as they used to be in the 1980's before an insect infestation devastated crops nationwide). The problem is that small holder cacao farmers (essentially family farms) don't have the capacity to produce large quantities of quality cocoa beans. They lack the technology for more efficient farm techniques. They lack the education for effective pest control. They lack the capital to invest in farm inputs. They lack the business knowledge for operating their farm sustainably.

As I came to the Philippines, I learned of great efforts being made by two organizations. The Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines (CocoaPhil) is a local filipino non-profit organization supporting cacao farmers by offering trainings. ACDI/VOCA is a U.S. non-profit organization operating globally that is doing field work in the Philippines. Both organizations work together (and in fact have a contractual relationship for projects and funding). I'm happy to have had the opportunity to work with both organizations during my month-long stay in the Philippines for my grad school internship experience.

Both organizations have developed great connections and relationships with cacao farmers. CocoaPhil seems to operate more in the northern island of Luzon and some in the Visayas region. ACDI/VOCA seems to operate more in the southern island of Mindanao and some in the Visayas region. CocoaPhil does work in Mindanao as well though, particularly in partnership with ACDI/VOCA. The majority of the agriculture in the Philippines comes from Mindanao because the climate is so ideal.

Cacao farmers are engaged through several workshops that help teach effective farm techniques. Through organic farming, they are able to learn how to compost and to manage pests. Farmers have access to demonstration farms in various parts of the country that they can visit to learn techniques. Both CocoaPhil and ACDI/VOCA have field staff that go out to the farmers to build connections. This helps create engagement with the farmers. I didn't necessarily see ways that farmers participated in decision making, however, I did get the impression that the input from the farmers was valued.

I think both CocoaPhil and ACDI/VOCA are effective in engaging with cacao farmers. When I did farm visits in the provinces of Bicol and Quezon (on Luzon) and in the provinces of Davao and Davao del Sur (on Mindanao), I was impressed with the way the field staff was recognizable to farm leaders and also respected by farmers. That was a good indication of the kind of engagement both organizations had with them. CocoaPhil wants to engage with farmers by offering microloans but they need the financial resources to initiate such a program.

Overall, the internship experience helped shape my own social entrepreneurship endeavors. While I'm still working on developing the business side of what I want to do with chocolate (either a product or a location like a cocoa cafe), I do know that I want to provide a direct connection between the producers and the consumers. I want to tell the stories of these farmers who are cultivating the cocoa beans that eventually becomes what the consumers enjoy. I would like to maintain a relationship with CocoaPhil and ACDI/VOCA and help support their mission of supporting, educating, and empowering farmers. I would also like to allocate a portion of profits to continue supporting farm families. I'd like to help provide financial support for school tuition and supplies, medical facilities, literacy classes, and also business training. I'd also like to resource CocoaPhil in implementing a microloan program so that farmers can reinvest in their farms.

Ultimately, this internship experience in the Philippines motivates me to want to continue exploring ways of using cocoa for good.

1 comment:

  1. Hello. May I ask where exactly in Quezon is the cacao plantation you'd visited? We really need to go to a cacao plantation for our feasibility study. Thank you.