Monday, February 14, 2011
MARS INC. and DEVELOPMENT
I love chocolate. I worship it. The butter in the seeds make it melt on your tongue. It is the most sensual food on the planet and has been for centuries. On Sunday I went to the National Museum of the Native American and celebrated the history and wonders of chocolate. I learned about how it is harvested along the delecate neck of Meso America. But what fascinated and agitated me was listening to Dr. Howard-Yana Shapiro, one of the geneologists at the Mars company who developed a type of cocao tree that instead of producing the original 450 kg per hector, his GMO can produce 1700 kg per hector. Sounds wonderful. Sounds like more chocolate. But Shapiro makes the claim, producing more chocolate will enable native people in West Africa and Latin America to stop cutting trees in the rain forest to plant more cocao trees. It will also ease up child labor and kids will go to school because the more the family is making, the more the less they need kids to work in the fields because the productivity is so high that families can start focussing on other aspects of life such as education. And sanitation. But will this lead to a great impact? One for possitive change? Perhaps. But not really.
Why? Well just because 4.5 billion people that grow the cocoa on 2-3 hectors of land in the world can produce more cocoa does not mean that they will make sure their children attend school or stop cutting trees in the rainforest. I think the GMOs are a great start. But progress for the elimination of child labor and more attendence in schools and the preserving of biodiversity in rain forests will not occur is native governments do not instill legislation in their country to make illegal for children to work and not attend school or legislation that protects rain forests from any more damage. Now when I asked Shapiro if his company had the authority to address issues about sustainability and child labor laws to the governments they are trading with. Shapiro said no. That they were buying from chocolate brokers. But then I asked him, then sir, wouldn't that make you the consumer? Don't you have all the power in this industry and are the most empowered by choice? And as the largest consumer of raw cocoa in the world, don't you have the authority to reject a country's supply of cocao unless they complied to some guidelines the industry set up? He was silent.
But there are great steps the organization is making. For example Mars Inc. is working with the Rainforest Alliance to certify chocolate as sustainable. More yields mean less chance of disease in the plants. Also the chocolate is sustainable if the farmers are not cutting any more trees. What guarantees that the farmers are not clearing any more land for private property. But as I have read it it does not really ensure that new farmers will stop cutting down trees. The sutainable label is applicable for farmers right now who have 3 hectors of land on average each. But what if more people want to farm because it is a lucrative business? Its a label for individual farmers but does not concern how rapid the agribusiness is growing. Nevertheless, its a good step and brings awarness to these issues. Hopefully the industry will keep redrafting its policies.
I wish Mars would do what one of their competitors, Cadbury, is doing and build schools and community centers for their workers in West Africa. Invest in the communities! This is what development is all about! To develop a region one must invest in the schools not just in the economic sector! Its like economic sustainability. Or communal sustainability! When I asked him about education programs supported by Mars, he responded "this is not a charity". Sometimes I wonder...
Don't forget where your chocolate comes from. Remember it comes from a terra cotta pod that is fecund and tight with bitter fruit that is dried and fermented and handled in a tradition that has not changed much from century to century. Remember that the chocolate that melts on your tongue is often once passed by the bean by a little boy in Ghana to his father in a 3 hector farm. Remember as the consumer we can be the change we want to see.