Cocoa is one of the most sustainable, if not ‘the’ most sustainable commodities that go through international trade. So, undoubtedly you can add another ‘feel good’ reason for indulging yourself in your favorite handmade premium Schoko Chocolates.
But there is a catch – cocoa is a sustainable commodity, at least when they are harvested by smallholder producers. In short, when cocoa is grown in small batches instead of in large, industrial settings cocoa wouldn’t lose its sustainability trait. Then there is also the matter of trading them by the professionals (who make them usable) and also respecting the commitment of sharing equal profits to all related parties who in some form or the other, is involved in growing cocoa.
But truth be told, we rarely let ourselves be bothered by inconvenient thoughts like that. But I can guarantee you that thinking about keeping the world safe for the next generation isn’t much of a big deal anymore, every one of us can help in some ways. And know that it is never too late to start a good thing. Let me help you get started with a simple view of how chocolate cultivation can affect our environment and the minimum we can do about that.
The Environmental Impacts Of Cocoa Cultivation:
Theobroma cacao which we know as Cocoa is a species mostly grown in wilderness. It springs up from the Amazonian basin covered by the rainforest and also in the foothills of the mighty Andes. An interesting fact of the cacao plants is that it is grown as an ‘understory’ species. For the plant enthusiasts, understory plants are nothing new, but for the rest, let me enlighten you a little – plants that grow beneath the canopy of the forest without ever going through or penetrating the shades with which it is being covered, are known as understory plants. They live beneath the taller trees but above the floors of the forest. The substantial amount of cocoa crop is harvested underneath the shade of the taller trees with the growth of other mixed plantings.
Cocoa is unlike the other plantation crops like rubber and oil palm, and can be harvested in a diverse mix of other plants. Naturally, all the cocoa beans are not produced in this way. So, for those of us who are specially invested in keeping the biodiversity of nature intact, you should check if the chocolate producers acquire the Rainforest Alliance citation.
Then there is the issue of water consumption by cocoa plants. A lot of water is a must for the cocoa plants to survive, and that’s why prominent cocoa plantations leave a soaring water footprint. But on the other end of the spectrum, most or I can even say that almost all the smallholder farmers grow cocoa without any sort of irrigation system in place. These smallholder farmers meet the water demand by being in high-rainfall areas. As a result, this type of cocoa production uses zero water other than a very little amount required only in processing.
The most obvious environmental facet, as we all know, is the use and/or overuse of chemical substances in the forms fertilizers and pesticides or insecticides. During their life-cycle, cocoa pods consume a lot of nutrients out of the soil and out of the ecosystem while being grown. Let’s have a look at the list - a kilogram of dry cocoa can take out:
Nitrogen - 36 grams
Phosphorus - 6 grams
Potassium - 72 grams
Calcium - 7 grams
Magnesium - 6 grams.
This transpires that maintaining the soil condition and continuing harvesting cocoa is never an easy feat. And if this difficult task is neglected for the sack of growing more cocoa to meet the ever expanding demand around the world, we might have soon found ourselves in a situation where we have the soil but without its fertility to grow cocoa. Of course, this problem can be dealt with by the measured application of fertilizers. But what is happening actually is, we rarely consider maintaining soil fertility and keep getting out everything we can from the ground. The other aspect of this problem is overuse of chemical substances in the form of fertilizers and pesticides which create even more damage to the earth and propel environmental pollution at a faster rate.
But for us, the chocolate lovers, not everything is bad news – in Sulawesi, a research supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research has concluded that by applying a sagacious amalgamation of nitrogen-inducing shade trees and compost (usually made by the goats) can keep or even regain lost soil fertility. The best part of the research was that this wise application can even reform wiped out speargrass savanna for production of cocoa.
Chocolate-Shopping - The Ways To Do It
The good news is that not each and every chocolate producer is driven out by sheer motive of corporate greed. A great many chocolate makers are really motivated to keep the integrity of the soil and in the process, save the environment as well.
We, the chocolate lovers, have also the power of inspiring the makers to keep thinking about sustainable cultivation of cocoa beans as well. Let’s talk about that now.
The first thing we can do is to look for certification.
Fairtrade certification implies that smallholder cultivators in developing countries are being paid a fair portion of the price we are paying for the chocolates we are buying. Rainforest Alliance, on other hand, certifies that rainforest hasn’t been damaged or elucidated to make room for unsustainable cocoa cultivations. Fertilizer and pesticide uses in agriculture are usually overseen by UTZ and their certification will tell you that the chocolate makers were in line with the prescribed use of chemical substances.
On the opposite end of the scenario are the smallholdings that oftentimes are less likely to be awarded these kinds of certifications. But the good news is that it doesn’t necessarily imply they are the antagonists who are causing all sorts of destruction to the environment, or even that the farmers aren’t receiving their fair price. It can be for the simple reason that the cost of acquiring formal certification is not worth it for numerous small and boutique farms. Also it should be remembered that much of the cocoa collected from the pods for chocolate-making is more or less organic in nature by default. That’s why many smallholders who operate in the Pacific region, simply do not need agrochemicals. And to ensure quality and unique flavors, Australian handmade chocolate makers and boutique farms have already started to source cocoa beans directly from cacao smallholder farmers who are less likely to cause lasting damage to the environment.
Though it sounds counterintuitive from the business perspective, we should buy chocolates when we need them, or should I say when we eat them? Let me clarify a bit.
Every supermarket aisles are full of chocolate bars waiting to be picked up. And there are very good reasons for that. People often find themselves in chocolate-binging for various reasons. That's why we often show the tendency to store chocolates for later consumption. Though it is good for the chocolate makers, it is never a good idea for many other reasons. Thats why, handmade premium chocolate makers like Schoko Chocolates are far more efficient. You order when you feel the need, so market demand remains realistic which makes chocolate makers pragmatic and this prevents over-cultivation of cocoa.
In simple terms, I just can say that, buy one chocolate at a time.
Now let me clear my thoughts - I eat chocolates everyday, but I also want to eat them for the rest of my life. And I want to do that by paying a reasonable amount of money, because I simply don’t want chocolates to be items like saffron, Iberico ham or wagyu beef. I hope you would agree with me on that front and do something to keep chocolates as it is today for us for the rest of our lives.