Jolene M. (Produce and Cafe
at the Kootenay Co-op)
“Why are organic farming practices and fair trade important to you, and why are they important to the cocoa industry?”
The web of life is woven by a single strand that connects all beings. Everything from the smallest bacteria to human beings have a critical role to play and I have found nowhere that this is more obvious than our food system. Organic and fair trade farming standards implement practices that address the needs, and uplift the roles of all levels of life. These standards are particularly important in the cocoa industry where lack of education and social injustice have led to the mismanagement of land and inhumane treatment of farmers.
Organic farming begins where life begins, the soil. Soil is a diverse community of minerals, air, organic matter and microorganisms that when in balance holds water and carbon and provides the proper nutrients for plants to thrive without the need for chemical inputs. While organic farming supports this natural cycle, conventional farming neglects the soil in many ways. In the cocoa industry pesticides are sprayed on trees, end up in the soil and change its pH, resulting in a loss of organic matter, and carbon returning to the atmosphere as soils become sterile. The UN estimates that this soil sterilization around the world results in 25-40% of the current excess of CO2 in the atmosphere. When we look closely at the web of life we can see that even the treatment of something as seemingly insignificant as soil has an effect on all beings around the world.
Another major contributor to climate change is agricultural deforestation. Cocoa grows along the equator within forests known to be the largest carbon sinks in the world. Without an understanding of soil health and its connection to crop yields, uneducated farmers often resort to deforesting areas around their farms to plant more cocoa trees and make up for lack of production. With the growth of the organic market and the rise of fair trade cocoa cooperatives, farmers have been able to receive training in soil science, companion planting, and agroforestry. In response they have reduced their pesticide use and increased yields without needing to deforest land to plant larger crops. Organic farming begins with the soil, but it doesn’t end there, when we support the health of the smallest organisms in the web of life that health inevitably ripples out to all other beings.
The importance of empowering cocoa farmers themselves cannot be emphasized enough. Investigations have revealed horrible injustices on cocoa farms. Farmers who depend on their farms to support their families are paid a small fraction of what their product is actually worth. And children as young as 5 years old are forced into working long days in the heat with hazardous chemicals and machetes, carrying bags of cocoa larger than themselves through the forests. Fair trade standards implement fair compensation for farmers, as well as setting standards for working conditions. This allows farmers to support themselves and their families while disallowing child labour and creating safe work environments, uplifting the land and those who tend to it.
In an ever-growing industry that has a history of human rights violations and poor land management the need for organic and fairtrade standards cannot be emphasised enough. It is easy for us to separate the cocoa products we buy in the store from climate change and social injustice but the truth is that in the same way a farmer’s treatment of the soil impacts all of our lives, the small everyday choices we make when we are purchasing food ripple out in vast waves too. The web of life is woven by a single strand, organic and fair trade standards are just a beginning in mending the web we are all a part of.
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