In the week leading up to Halloween, households around the United States prepare for the inevitable onslaught of trick-or-treaters by shoring up their store of chocolate — 90 million pounds of it to be precise. But before these bags of ghoulish goodies arrive at neighborhood supermarkets, wherewas all that cocoa grown, and how does its cultivation impact people and the environment around the world?
Native to South America, cocoa (Theobroma cacao) is now grown predominately in West Africa and Southeast Asia, along with Brazil and Ecuador. An ideal crop for conservation, cocoa can flourish under the shade of native canopy trees. Unfortunately, many cocoa farmers have abandoned the traditional method of growing cocoa under tall trees and begun clearing land to grow cocoa trees in the sun. While this may increase yields, it’s far from sustainable. When forest is cut to grow cocoa, the results are wildlife habitat loss, soil erosion and decreased soil fertility. In addition, sun-grown cocoa requires agrochemical use.
The Rainforest Alliance is working in the West African countries of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana — the world’s largest cocoa producing nations — to transform the way small farmers manage their land, and in turn, the kind of cocoa that winds up in your favorite Halloween candy. We’re also training cocoa farmers in Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil and Peru to grow their crops in a way that maximizes yields and environmental benefits while respecting the rights of workers and their families. In doing so, we’re ensuring that poor farmers can earn a decent living from their land while protecting their environment.
Well-managed cocoa farms can earn the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal of approval by meeting the comprehensive criteria set by the Sustainable Agriculture Network. This seal is a guarantee that farmers are protecting the environment and the rights and welfare of workers.
Cocoa farmers working with the Rainforest Alliance report real differences between their pre-certification and post-certification farms. According to Allah Yao Bernard, owner of a 29-acre (12-hectare) certified farm in Côte d’Ivoire, “When you enter a certified plantation, you instantly realize the difference. The cleanliness, the trees and the housing area — everything has improved.” He adds, “Thanks to our better treatment of water and waste, our workers have [fewer] health problems.”
Throughout Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, thousands of cocoa producers are participating in farmer field schools and learning to manage their land sustainably. Taking place outdoors amidst the cocoa trees, these lessons are crucial to farmers unfamiliar with the concept of certification and the significance of environmentally-sound farming. Many participants go on to seek Rainforest Alliance certification — and pass the lessons they’ve learned on to their neighbors.
Quarmé Atome, owner of two small cocoa farms covering a total of 16 acres (6.75 hectares), saw his annual yields grow from 3.5 tons to 4.5 tons after participating in a farmer field school and becoming Rainforest Alliance Certified. “I am now more convinced than ever that adopting best practices will result in higher yields and better [conservation] of the environment. These results will encourage my children to seriously consider going into farming as a business.”
Atome and Bernard are just two among thousands of cocoa farmers who are benefiting from agricultural methods that are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable. Show your support for these farmers — and fight poverty and environmental degradation in cocoa producing regions — by doling out Rainforest Alliance Certified chocolate this Halloween. Available at Whole Foods, Trader Joes and other retail outlets, it’s chocolate that’s good for people and the planet. It’s also a sweet way to share your values with the next generation of conservationists.