As it’s Easter, we thought it appropriate to shine the spotlight on cocoa, to give you an insight into the harsh industry and the ways in which buying Fairtrade chocolate can help to improve the lives of cocoa farmers.

Chocolate may be one of the world’s favourite foods but growing the cocoa, which is used to make this tasty treat, is a hard task. Around 90% of the world’s cocoa is grown on small family farms, and about six million people around the world farm cocoa for a living.

Cocoa trees need a specific environment to grow, with the ideal climate being hot, rainy, and tropical, with lush vegetation to provide shade. This delicate and sensitive crop only grows between the Tropic of Cancer, in the Northern hemisphere, and the Tropic of Capricorn, in the Southern hemisphere, each of which lie around 20 degrees latitude from the equator. The primary growing regions are Africa, Asia, and Latin America, with 60% of the world’s cocoa sourced from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana alone.

When cared for properly, cocoa trees begin to yield pods at peak production levels by their fifth year of life, and can continue at this rate of production for ten years. However, this is extremely hard work for the cocoa farmers, who gain very little from a very profitable global cocoa trade.

The demand for cocoa is high but the global price for this magical bean has fluctuated wildly in recent decades. This comes as a result of extreme weather events, politic upheaval in Côte d’Ivoire and has been exacerbated by speculators betting on cocoa futures markets. In March 2011, prices hit a 32-year high before crashing an unbelievable 42% by the end of the year! Fortunately, in 2014 the international price of cocoa beans rose, and recovered, in response to high demand for cocoa products, as well as, fears of a cocoa bean shortage.

It’s no surprise that with such volatility in prices, its near to impossible for cocoa farmers to know how much they will be paid for their cocoa beans in any given year, let alone being able to plan for the future. The insufficient benefits of being a cocoa farmer is resulting in very few young people wanting to stay in the profession and the number of farmers falling; the average age of a cocoa farmer is currently 50 years old! The rise in cocoa bean prices is not translating to tangible rewards for the farmers, who remain in poverty as their incomes fail to keep up with rising production costs and household expenses.

But how is Fairtrade making things better for these dedicated farmers, who are striving to make a living in the face of adversity?

Fairtrade makes cocoa farming more sustainable, so farmers can better provide for themselves and their families.

Fairtrade has set a minimum price for cocoa of $2,000 (approx. £1340) per ton, with a $200 (approx. £134) premium per ton on top of that. Farmers can invest this Fairtrade Premium into their businesses, to improve the efficiency of their farms, which in turn boosts their yields and the quality of their cocoa. They can also use the premium to find programmes within their community, such as the creation and improvement of schools, medical centres and clean running water, all of which are essential for health and social development in these, often, marginalised communities.

In addition to the minimum price and premium, Fairtrade provides fundamental training and support to farmer organisations. This helps them to become successful business organisations, by giving the farmers essential skills, such as how to negotiate their contracts with traders and get a better deal for their members.

Fairtrade also recognises the need for innovation, to create a wider range of options which will allow farmers to sell more of their cocoa on Fairtrade terms. In January 2014, Fairtrade launched new sourcing opportunities for cocoa under the Fairtrade Sourcing Program for Cocoa.

Fair Trade is a long term partnership between producers and traders based on mutual respect and transparency, and the benefits of upholding these values is clear, no matter the industry. It’s no secret that here at People Tree we are focused on putting people first and one of the primary ways we achieve this is by ensuring we adhere to Fair Trade practices at all times. In doing so, we are helping people in the world’s most marginalised communities to escape poverty, strengthen their communities and promote environmental sustainability.

We would love to see more companies embracing Fair Trade principles in future and we are passionate in supporting all other industries and enterprises, no matter how small, who are joining us in being part of the change!

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