We hear about exploited cacao farmers, poverty and violence in the cacao-growing countries of Central America, and of course, the many, many people who have to leave their homes in search of a better life.
It’s pretty much impossible to enjoy good chocolate if we’re causing someone else to suffer. We at Chocolate Riot want you to know about the women and men who farm the cacao that we use in our THINS...let this knowledge add to your enjoyment of our chocolate!
INCREASING WORKERS’ INCOME
Chocolate Riot cacao comes from 64 very small (average .5 acre) farms in the Cahabon region of Guatemala. In the past, the only buyers for their cacao were men called coyotes. They appeared from time to time and paid a different price that changed with each visit. The farmers had no control and no security...and sometimes didn’t even have cacao ready to sell since they weren’t expecting the coyotes.
Now, the farmers have formed a cooperative and work closely with a business called Cacao Verapaz - Chocolate Riot’s supplier - which offers the farmers a year-round contract, securing top dollar for the cacao beans that meet their high standards. And Cacao Verapaz makes sure the growers are able to meet these standards by giving farmers technical assistance and workshops on things the growers request, including tree pruning and fermenting and drying the cacao.
The increased income that farmers can count on enables them not only to cover their investment in their farms, but also to have a budget and take care of themselves and their families.
HELPING FARMERS STAY ON THEIR FARMS
Although gangs are a huge problem in parts of Guatemala, forcing people to flee, that is not the case in the Cahabon region. Here, it is poverty that causes people to abandon their farms. There is a minimum wage here, but many places pay as little as half of it, not because they are trying to cheat the workers, but because they cannot afford to pay workers more based on market prices they can get for their product. The minimum wage is not enforced.
Growing premium cacao, and commanding a higher price for it, makes a huge difference in the lives of many people in Cahabon and helps them remain on their farms successfully. Now, some young people are even taking over their family farms instead of having to leave in search of a job. The Guatemalan government and some NGOs see a good future in cacao, so they supply the farmers with cacao seedlings, creating hope for an even brighter future.
Traditionally, women worked in the home. The few who farmed alongside or instead of their husbands did not have decision-making power even though they were doing the work.
Now, with cacao fetching a higher price, more women are getting involved in agriculture to increase their families’ incomes and are recognized as full members of their cooperative. They cast 50% of the votes and are on the Board of Directors. There is also a group of women who have started their own side business of producing and selling Mayan fabrics.
These women’s involvement in cacao production is changing their families’ finances, affecting the way their association is run, and giving them confidence to start other business ventures.
These changes are great for farmers of all genders and their children, who now see more possibilities in their own futures.