I’m finally back from a wonderful visit to the Toledo Cocoa Growers Association (TCGA) in Punta Gorda, Belize. The name may not say much to most chocolate lovers, but it this cooperative that provides the beans for Green & Black’s Maya Gold chocolate bar. It was one of the earliest cooperatives certified for fairtrade cocoa.
The TCGA has developed into a viable organization, despite its troubles beginnings in the mid-1980s. It was founded in response to the Hershey-Hummingbird project, an attempt to restart cocoa production in Belize. When cocoa prices collapsed in the early 1990s, Hershey abandonned the project and left the farmers holding the bag.
Enter Craig Sams, the founder of Green & Black. With the aid of the Fairtrade Foundation of the UK and the UK Department of International Development, Green & Black established one of the first fairtrade relationships in the cocoa sector. In 1993, the company agreed to purchase up to 500,000 pounds of beans at fairtrade prices from the TCGA.
Since then, TCGA has grown and the majority of the growth has taken place since 2003. In the three years between 2003-06, some 800 farmers joined the cooperative, bringing the total membership up to about 1,070 farmers, up from 271 at the beginning of the decade.
The majority of the farmers are not yet producing beans. Having cleared the farms only recently, they are still waiting for the trees to produce beans. Today some 370 farmers are active producers but output has increased nevertheless.
In 2006, TCGA delivered 94,000 pounds of beans. In 2008, the cooperative reached 103,000 pounds. Those amounts are miniscule in relation to the tons of fairtrade beans being produced elsewhere. But it’s important to remember that all beans produced by the TCGA are certified organic in addition to being fairtrade certified.
Armando Choco (what an appropriate surname), the manager of the TCGA hopes to increase production to 250,000 lbs over the next four years. At that level, the association will be sustainable and self-supporting. It will be able to pay for its overhead and the extension services it offers to its members. With so many new farmers coming online, there is little doubt that the TCGA can achieve that goal.
Green & Black is the sole purchaser of the TCGA beans. Until 2008, the company had committed to buying up to 500,000 lbs of beans per year. Since then the committment has been increased to 1 million lbs. In other words, there is plenty of room to grow for the TCGA.
In the coming days, I’ll add additional bits of information about my visit.
(Sorry about the poor image quality. My camera battery ran out and I had to rely on my mobile phone camera.)