A guest blog from Michael Niemann, a writer and teacher, and expert on the cocoa to chocolate commodity chain
Think of the Divine chocolate bar you just bought as the last link of a long chain. As you follow the chain back, link by link, you discover all the things that were necessary to make that Divine bar. There’s the wrapper, of course, then all the things what went into the chocolate itself–cocoa, cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla, lecithin. You can spot all those things on the list of ingredients. But you’ll have to use your imagination to see the people who worked hard to make them. That’s the problem with chocolate (and all other things). We can always see the thing but rarely think of the people who make everything that goes into it.
Fairtrade is an important step towards making some of those people visible. Every time I buy a Divine bar, I know that my purchase also benefits the cocoa farmers of Kuapa Kokoo. They will get a fair price and a social premium that contributes to their livelihood. But remember, the farmers stand at the very beginning of that chain. Fairtrade helps channel some additional money their way, but they are still at the beginning.
Throughout history, being at the beginning of a commodity chain has not been the best place to be. Yes, there have been some exceptions–oil comes to mind–but these just prove the rule. Usually the people who handle the later stages of making things, those in the middle and at the end of the chain, gain more. Economists call that value-added. That’s especially true of things made from tropical inputs. Fairtrade, as important as it is, does not change the position of the farmers, nor does it give them a larger share of the value-added that accumulates along the chain.
That’s why venture that Kuapa Kokoo and Divine have pioneered is so important. The farmers are part-owners of the chocolate company. They have leapfrogged from the beginning of the chain to its end. When Divine managing director Sophi Tranchell delivered another dividend check to Kuapa Kokoo last August, she didn’t hand over development aid, she handed the farmers their share of the value-added accumulated at the end of the chain. It’s fairtrade plus ownership. We can only hope that this model is replicated many more times.
Read Michael Niemann’s blog Bitter Chocolate here