Saving the Rainforest, One Morsel at a Time
The next time you bite into a bar of chocolate, consider that taste as a link to some of the world's most endangered forests—and to the millions of farmers who live near them. Chocolate comes from the seeds of the cacao, a small rainforest tree native to the Americas. Produced around the world, it is grown mainly on lands that have lost their original forest cover, sometimes to the cocoa itself. Today, all of the world's major cocoa areas are “biodiversity hotspots”—regions that are unusually rich in biodiversity, but which are also highly threatened.
The world's retail chocolate business is worth an estimated $42-60 billion annually. Yet only about 6-8 percent of this revenue actually makes its way back to the cocoa farmers, many of whom are poorer smallholders. Labor abuse is said to be rife in some cocoa regions, and reports of farmers enslaving thousands of child workers in places like Côte d'Ivoire have sparked widespread criticism of the industry.
Fortunately, a number of manufacturers now offer chocolate bars and other products that are more environmentally friendly and socially responsible. These products contain cocoa that comes from farms that conserve forest, that don’t use child labor, or are organic.
When buying chocolate, look for a brand with high cocoa content (more cocoa means higher quality and—at least potentially—more farm income). Look also for chocolate that carries a “fair trade” label or the mark of a similar socially responsible producer, and that is organic.
Encourage your favorite stores or supermarkets to carry chocolate brands that are certified as being fair trade, organic, or slavery-free.
The next time you entertain, try to serve a dessert made with only chocolate that is fair trade, organic, or both. Explain to your guests why you chose this type of chocolate and encourage them to reevaluate their own chocolate choices.