So, Cacaos are the beans that chocolate are made from. The trees are known as cacao trees, the fruit cacao pods. Cacao becomes cocoa after the beans have been processed, until then it is referred to as cacao.
The Cacao Pod
A cacao pod has a rough leathery rind about 3 cm thick (this may vary with the origin and variety of pod). It is filled with sweet, mucilaginous pulp called 'baba de cacao' in South America, enclosing 30 to 50 large almond-like seeds (beans) that are fairly soft and pinkish or purplish in color.
The cacao tree may have originated in the foothills of the Andes in the Amazon and Orinoco basins of South America where today, examples of wild cacao still can be found.
Cacao trees will grow in a limited geographical zone, of approximately 20 degrees to the north and south of the Equator. Nearly 70% of the world crop is grown in West Africa.
Cultivation of Organic Cocoa
Cacao is shade grown, like shade grown coffee and tea are grown under a canopy of rainforest trees.organic matter, which is very conducive to insects called midges, which are the sole pollinators of the cacao flowers. Only 1 to 3% of cacao flowers produce cacao fruit, or pods. Without shade trees and midges that thrive on them, the production of cacao pods has been found to dwindle to a fraction of this.
The production guidelines for organic farming can be applied to cocoa production in a number of ways. The minimum requirements are already fulfilled if synthetic aids such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers are no longer used or if they are replaced by organic aids. Based on the production guidelines cocoa grown in such plantations can be certified by most of the certifying organizations. However, it will not fulfil the objective of being sustainable in the ecological sense.
Why Organic Cocoa?
Cocoa is grown in tropical countries on small family farms. Entire families, including small children work on these farms. Often the workers are not educated and do not use any protective devices to guard against the deadly chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Some of the chemicals they use are even banned in many industrialized countries, but they find an easy market in poor, tropical nations. The chemicals play havoc on the natural balance of the environment as well, including the soil, the habitat and overall ecosystem. How much of these chemicals find their way into our own bodies as consumers and what the effect these chemicals may have on our health is a subject of great debate. For the health of the farmers and their families, the environment, and the consumers, it is thus best to use organic and sustainable cocoa products wherever possible.
Why Fair Trade Cocoa?
For three consecutive years since 2000, analysts predict a deficit situation in the world cocoa market. Cocoa farming must be very profitable for the farmers. So what is the need for Fair Trade certified cocoa?
The majority of the cocoa is produced on small family farms in tropical countries. These farmers are not educated or market savvy. Cocoa is their only cash crop and most of the profits are cornered by various other parts of the supply chain; including middlemen who hardly add any significant value to the product. The Farmers continue to be poor.
Fair Trade is an international organization that encourages these farmers to form cooperatives and market their product directly without middlemen. Fair Trade certifies the cooperatives, educates them in sustainable farming and helps them increase their income by making sure that they are paid a proper price for their products, so they can live a dignified life. The Fair Trade organization also carries out many other projects, such as education and health promotion.
How 'fair' is Fair Trade, is also debated extensively.
Did You Know?
- Cocoa should not be confused with the coca plant which can be used to create cocaine.
- Coco generally refers to coconut, no relation to cacao or cocoa.
- Chocolate was introduced to Europe by the Spaniards and became a popular beverage by the mid 1600s. They also introduced the cacao tree into the West Indies and the Philippines.
- The cacao plant was first given its botanical name by Swedish natural scientist Carolus Linnaeus in his original classification of the plant kingdom, who called it Theobroma ("food of the gods") cacao.