Let's Talk - - GARDENING -

Most peo­ple like to in­dulge in a lit­tle choco­late at Christ­mas - or for that mat­ter, any other time of the year - and this is an­other prod­uct which has its ori­gin in a tree.

Theo­broma ca­cao has been cul­ti­vated for its large seed or ‘bean’-bear­ing pods since at least 1000 BC by the in­hab­i­tants of the area we now know as Mex­ico. Brought to Eu­rope in the 16th Cen­tury by the Span­ish, choco­late first be­came pop­u­lar as a drink, but it wasn’t un­til 1847 that the first choco­late bar was cre­ated.

We now love choco­late so much that the world­wide in­dus­try is worth al­most £47 bil­lion.

How­ever, there is a darker side to mod­ern day co­coa cul­ti­va­tion. In re­cent decades, West Africa has been the main grow­ing area, but since 1990 Peru has also seen a mas­sive in­crease in pro­duc­tion. And this is where one of the prob­lems lies, be­cause as con­sumers in­dulge, thou­sands of acres of pri­mary rain­for­est in the Ama­zon, Ghana, Nige­ria and Côte d’Ivoire are be­ing cleared to grow ca­cao. Once they en­ter the mar­ket, these ‘dirty’ beans are vir­tu­ally un­trace­able, and find their way into many fa­mil­iar brands.

Added to this, some grow­ers in West Africa re­sort to us­ing child labour so that they can keep prices com­pet­i­tive. Many of these chil­dren have been abducted, sold to traf­fick­ers and end up as un­paid slaves. While most are be­tween 12 and 16-years- old, it’s not un­usual for those as young as five to be torn from their fam­i­lies, and it is thought that there are now some 1.8 mil­lion child labour­ers on the co­coa farms of the re­gion.

The work of har­vest­ing the co­coa beans in­volves long hours and dan­ger­ous work, in­clud­ing the use of sharp ma­chetes to cut down and split the pods. It’s no won­der that chil­dren suf­fer ter­ri­ble in­juries, not to men­tion the fact that they are also ex­posed to toxic agri­cul­tural pes­ti­cides which are sprayed on the co­coa trees to kill in­sects.

No ma­jor la­bel can guar­an­tee their choco­late has been made with­out child ex­ploita­tion.

How­ever, there is an in­creas­ing num­ber of small, in­de­pen­dent com­pa­nies pro­duc­ing eth­i­cally sourced choco­late. We can look out for choco­late made from co­coa sourced from well­man­aged plan­ta­tions out­side West Africa, which is al­most al­ways re­spon­si­bly grown. It may be more ex­pen­sive, but what is that com­pared to the free­dom of a child?

A list of com­pa­nies pro­duc­ing eth­i­cally sourced choco­late can be found at www. slave­free­choco­

Co­coa beans from which choco­late is made.

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