Posted on 1 Comment

Beyond Fairtrade


As Fairtrade fortnight begins, we want to take a moment and talk about what Fairtrade means to us at Cocoa Runners. One of the most common questions we get asked is ‘Is your chocolate Fairtrade?’ The answer to this is not as simple as it may seem. Some of our bars are certified some are not, but all are committed to a ‘fair’ way of making chocolate and many go above and beyond the requirements of the Fairtrade.

Here we want to explain what Fairtrade really means, how this works with chocolate in particular and finally take a look at some of the other initiatives pioneered by our makers. And so for Fairtrade fortnight we will pick out a selection of different bars from the Chocolate Library to talk about. Will take an in-depth look at a different maker or grower and what they do to create great chocolate in a way that benefits everyone involved.

What is Fairtrade?

There are several different elements to the Fairtrade program. First the cocoa crop should be produced under Fairtrade’s social economic and environmental standards. Second Fairtrade sets a minimum price for the beans. This means that even with market fluctuations farmers can still guarantee a relatively stable income. At the same time if the market price is higher than the Fairtrade minimum the organisation specifies that farmers should receive this.

On top of this is the Fairtrade Premium. This additional sum of money is given to a communal fund that workers and farmers can use as they see fit. They have the freedom to choose what is most important to them and what they would like to invest in – whether that is healthcare for the community, or education for their children.

While Fairtrade is a non-profit organisation, certification is not free. According to the Fairtrade international certification authority (FLOCERT) it will cost a cooperative with under 50 members at least €1466 to get certified. Once registered there is also an annual fee of €1199 (for organisations of under 50 members).

From the point of view of a western business this might not seem like much. But in Madagascar where according to the World Bank in 2014 GDP per capita was just $449.4, the cost is far more significant.

What we can learn from Fairtrade

The idea behind Fairtrade is something you can only admire. For larger scale farms and cooperatives, particularly for those growing a crops where quality needs to be consistent but not exceptional (e.g. bananas) it’s an effective way of guaranteeing a fair price and better working conditions.

Fairtrade has also encouraged people to think more about how chocolate is sourced and helped make the cocoa supply chain more transparent. In provoking questions about transparency and “fair pay” for growers, it’s also raised other questions. For example, how can to help develop local economies beyond paying a minimum price for cocoa? Or, how can to develop chocolate that is better for consumers makers and growers?

Beyond Fairtrade: makers and farmers revolutionising chocolate

By using Fairtrade as a starting point, more and more people are looking at how they can help local communities grow and develop. This not just about providing a safety net and basic amenities, this is about revolutionising lives and creating real growth. And makers and growers from Saigon to San Francisco, Brooklyn to Budapest and Warsaw to Woodstock are building a “craft chocolate movement” that seeks to answer these questions.

For this new wave of chocolate makers, it all starts with the bean. If you want great chocolate (or any other great food) you need to start with great ingredients. Find the best beans and you can make amazing tasting chocolate. And to secure the best beans you need to work directly, and with a thought to the future, with farmers.

Only recently have small batch craft chocolate makers been able to consistently source great beans. As with wine (or coffee), the best beans come from single estates and require careful nurturing. In most parts of the cocoa growing world (a belt 20 degrees of the equator), cocoa growers have been forced to sell to government monopolies. And these government monopolies are all too often more concerned with quantity rather than quality. There is little incentive for farmers to nurture and grow interesting bean varietals. So it’s been hard to find great beans or craft great chocolate.

This modern day ‘chocolate revolution’ began when a handful of pioneers made it possible for these makers to get hold of cocoa beans. People such as Bertil Akesson in Madagascar, Daniel Doherty in Hawaii, Alex Whitmore (and Daniel) in Belize and Sam and Vincent of Marou in Vietnam have made available “premier cru” quality cocoa beans for the first time.

Direct Trade: better for farmers and makers

The relationship between craft chocolate makers and farmers goes beyond simply paying a reasonable price for cocoa beans. Craft chocolate makers are very aware that they need to incentivise the farmers and growers to nurture and grow great beans year in and year out. And they know that they have to work with the farmers over the long term to harvest great beans. So craft chocolate makers seek to build long term partnerships and train farmers in how best to plant, harvest, ferment and dry beans

These makers practise what is now called “Direct Trade”. They go out directly to the farms to work with the makers. Daniel Doherty runs around the world as professor of fermentation in Hawaii. Brian from Pitch Dark goes every other year to Fiji to help the farmers he worked alongside whilst a student to continue to grow cocoa. Alex Whitmore takes dozens of American craft chocolate makers to Belize every year and is producing the first bar crafted from single estates in Haiti. Joseph Zotter has risked life and limb to help farmers in Colombia swap cocaine for cocoa. TCHO build local mini production lines with web cams in the jungle to work with their farmers. It’s truly awesome. And humbling.

Many makers have also come out of the environmental movement. Later in the week we’ll take a closer look at Original Beans, whose founder Philipp Kaufmman was previously at the WWF and UNDP. He started Original Beans because he sees cocoa as one of the best crops to encourage farmers to preserve the rain forest.

Above and beyond partnering with local farmers, craft chocolate is helping develop local manufacturing and logistics. Over 70% of the world’s chocolate is grown in Africa, but hardly any is made there. Menakao and Chocolat Madagascar are two of the companies breaking this mould. Neil Kelsall of Raise Trade, pioneered the development of “award winning and highly ethical” premium packaged chocolate by Chocolat Madagascar that is made in Madagascar and uses local ingredients.

Not only do Chocolat Madagascar (now also Menakao) pay local Malagasy growers over 2x the average price of cocoa for their beans, they provide training and employment in their factories. In so doing, they generate 4-5 times more benefit to the local economy than Fair Trade alone. Similar initiatives are now being pursued in Peru (Cacaosuyo, Shatell and Rainforest Organics), Ecuador (Pacari and Hoja Verde) and of course Grenada (Mott Green’s Grenada Chocolate Company and now Chantal Coady of Rococo).

Finally craft chocolate makers care for their employees, growers and partners Bertil Akesson ensures that his workers children receive a proper education in Madagascar and in his workshops in France provides opportunities for mentally handicapped employees. Santiago Peralta microfinances donkeys so his workers knees are spared some of the trials and tribulations of carrying cocoa pods through the jungle. Shawn Askinosie sets out every other year to find a new source for beans and as part of this, creates a local charity for self-sufficiency – in his own words:

‘We take local high school students to Tanzania to meet farmers and experience life changing travel in a very competitive program we started called Chocolate University. One of our applicants wrote in her essay that she lived in the homeless shelter a block from our factory as a young girl and that she would walk to our factory and that we (our employees) treated her as a special person and that we gave her and her little brother chocolate samples. When I read that I realized that we treated her with hospitality and that she liked coming to our place and that as she grew older and achieved against the odds, she was inspired to apply to our program. We selected her and she went with us to Tanzania last summer. I may die tomorrow and if I do, then I will know that we are a successful company beyond all measure.’

And craft chocolate makers realise they have to pay more, but they are happy – even proud – to do so. In the words of British maker Duffy Sheardown:

‘We chocolate makers agree to pay whatever the cocoa farmer asks for his beans without haggling or complaining. The farmer has to grow fine flavour cocoa beans to make it worthwhile our paying the extra for them. [..] The extra that I pay for the beans goes direct to the grower – there are no middlemen taking a cut’

These relationships go far beyond any certification. Fairtrade farmers and cooperatives normally sell the cocoa beans (at the Fairtrade price) to brokers, importers and exporters who will then sell them on to someone else. These makers have a far more direct relationship with people who sell their beans. They work together, developing and sharing expertise with a common goal: to create exceptional craft chocolate for people around the world to enjoy.

We love the benefits and the shift in attitudes that Fairtrade has generated. But for us the challenge is to go even further. We love single estate craft chocolate. We believe that when done properly, using simple high quality ingredients, craft chocolate doesn’t just taste amazing but is beneficial to everyone. From farmer to maker to consumer, there is a shared desire to create something extraordinary. The result of this mutual passion is chocolate that taste good, does good and is good for you!



Header image courtesy of Idilio

1 thought on “Beyond Fairtrade

  1. Hi there,

    Great post. Definitely in line with our vision at Choba Choba.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *