Sunday, February 13, 2011

More Valued than Gold

One takes for granted that luxurious chocolate for such events as Valentine's Day is plentiful. It's not and there's a looming shortage.

One chocolate maker said, "There was a time in chocolate history, when chocolate was revered as a luxury item. I think there was a lot more respect for it at that time."

"The Mayans in Central America and Southern Mexico pioneered cocoa into its earliest edible form, a frothy, drinkable blend of cocoa, spices and water. The laborious process – beans had to be harvested, soaked, dried, hand-ground and mixed into an elixir that was aerated by hand – gave the drink specialty status. Cocoa beans were more valued than gold; humans were sacrificed ahead of annual harvests for good luck. Even then, cocoa was a form of money growing on trees."

With the growing affluence of a rising middle class in China and India the demand for chocolate has grown about 2% a year globally.

Today about one half of cocoa bean production comes from West Africa which is facing growing pressures of depleted soils and challenged social conditions where small farmers are frustrated by the laborious process. "Unlike most global commodities, cocoa is grown entirely by smallholders on plots of three acres or less. Plots are small because producers tend to be subsistence farmers without the discretionary income to expand."

The executive director of the Nature Conservation Research Centre says, a concerted effort must be made to cultivate the right conditions for cocoa production in these west African countries.

"Old trees would be replaced with young hybrids bred to grow in Ghanaian conditions; fertilizers would be used to restore balance and longevity to the soil; crop-extension agents would train farmers to become stewards of their land while coaxing maximum yields from the cocoa. Fallow lands would be restored to forests or other growth that is environmentally and economically beneficial."

It encourages one to think about to what extent one values the cocoa bean elixir, and why it's responsible to support the right physical and social conditions for its production.