Haves and have nots. It’s a lot easier to espouse sustainability when you have plenty of resources to … well, sustain oneself, as opposed to being in a position where you’re fighting to establish a livelihood for yourself and your family.
There’s an awful lot of hype out there about sustainability these days. Initially, I wasn’t sure what that actually meant - something akin to being green, I suspected. From what I remember, Kermit the Frog was green, but in his day that just meant being different.
So I thought it best to check on what definitions are out there regarding sustainability.
According to Wikipedia, “Sustainability, in a broad sense, is the capacity to endure. In ecology, the word describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. For humans, it is the potential for long-term maintenance of well-being, which in turn depends on the well-being of the natural world and the responsible use of natural resources.”
That sounded reasonable to me. But as I read the Wikipedia entry further, things got more complicated, with UN resolutions and differing interpretations of what the term means economically, environmentally, politically and the like.
In these days of instant labeling, conservative versus liberal, Boomer versus Generations X and Y, senior versus tweenie, it was actually comforting to read that sustainability isn’t necessarily black and white. (What really is, anymore?)
From a confectionery point of view - a narrow one, I’ll admit - there’s a clearer version of sustainability, specifically when it comes to cocoa and chocolate. The major manufacturers of chocolate products - Mars, Nestle and Hershey - together with the major suppliers to the industry - Barry Callebaut, ADM, Cargill, Blommer and Delfi - all recognize the fragile nature of sustaining a quality cocoa pipeline.
Dubbed the orphan crop because it’s grown, nurtured and harvested by small-scale family farmers as opposed to large-scale corporations, cocoa farming hasn’t received the benefit of large-scale government or industry support.
Only recently, thanks to the efforts of the World Cocoa Foundation - and the broad array of manufacturers, suppliers and agencies that support its efforts - have concerted attempts been made to make cocoa farming truly sustainable.
In my interview with Peter Blommer of Chicago-based Blommer Chocolate Co., featured in this month’s issue, the newly promoted president reiterates that the biggest challenge facing his company and the industry is guaranteeing the availability of good, quality cocoa in the future.
Here, too, the answers are straightforward. Part of the solution involves investing in good science, unraveling the cocoa genome and supporting the sometimes not-so-glamorous work of researchers out in the field.
Another key component has to do with helping farmers in Third-World countries to implement good husbandry, from pruning to proper pesticide and disease control. It’s also about paying fair prices - premiums, even - to farmers to encourage good practices.
And as Blommer relates, despite all the genuine efforts from manufacturers, suppliers, non-profit agencies, government groups and concerned individuals, “we’ve only scratched the surface” when it comes to making cocoa a truly sustainable crop.
I totally agree. And it’s our responsibility as an industry that the complexity of the problem not overwhelm us. Moreover, making cocoa a sustainable crop versus an orphan crop would truly set an example of what the word “sustainability” can mean.