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Dominican cocoa farmers recover with United Methodist help

 


Dominican cocoa farmers recover with United Methodist help

Feb. 11, 2005

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS) — When Hurricane Jeanne struck the Dominican Republic last September, the resulting damage affected some 1,600 cocoa farmers.

Those farmers – or producers, as they are called by the National Confederation of Dominican Cocoa Producers – are part of the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s coffee project. The project encourages people to buy “fair trade” items such as coffee, tea, cocoa and chocolate. In 2004, United Methodist churches and individuals bought 34 tons of products through Equal Exchange, which markets fair trade items.

A $10,000 grant from UMCOR, along with a similar contribution from Equal Exchange, helped the producers recover from the hurricane, according to Abel Fernandes, a manager with the cocoa producers confederation.

Founded in 1988, the confederation links 9,000 small producers through nine regional departments that serve 400 base associations.

“Typically, when natural disasters like this hit our country, the entire infrastructure of production is affected,” Fernandes told United Methodist News Service, speaking through a translator.

The hurricane, which killed at least 18 people in the Dominican Republic, also damaged fruit trees and other crops that sustain the population.

Without assistance from UMCOR, the affected farmers would have had to sell their labor to larger producers for immediate cash to buy food rather than clean up their own damaged cocoa crops, Fernandes said.

The confederation decided the best use for the grants was “to convert that money immediately into food,” to allow the producers to look after their own crops, he explained. The food was distributed through regional offices and their associations.

Fernandes, who was in New York on Feb. 9 on the first stop of a 12-day North American tour, presented a large Valentine’s heart to June Kim, organizer of the UMCOR Coffee Project, as a token of thanks to United Methodists.

Through the confederation, small cocoa producers in the Dominican Republic have increased the quality of their products – to the point where 30 percent of the country’s cocoa is now fermented for use in fine chocolate. They also specialize in organic chocolate. “We have become the primary producer of organic chocolate worldwide,” he said.

“One of our greatest accomplishments was receiving the official fair trade certification,” Fernandes added.

Internationally recognized fair trade standards require paying a fair price to farmers, including a guaranteed minimum when market prices are low; working directly with certified, democratically run farming cooperatives; and encouraging ecologically sustainable farming practices.

About 10 percent of the yearly output of 12,000 tons of cocoa is sold under fair trade certification, and the money “is invested in developing social projects in the communities where the producers live,” he reported.

Those projects include dispatching mobile medical vans, staffing rural medical clinics, creating small plant nurseries, digging wells in communities with no potable water, and providing assistance for students and schools.

Launched in 2002, the UMCOR Coffee Project encourages local congregations and individual members to buy and serve fairly traded coffee, tea and cocoa; design fundraising projects using those items; and organize forums to discuss fair trade issues.

According to information from Alison Booth, the interfaith food-service coordinator for Equal Exchange, United Methodist orders of fair trade products increased from 13 tons in 2003 to 34 tons in 2004. Participants included 1,098 churches and 78 individuals. As of February, 283 churches and 11 individuals have participated in 2005.

Equal Exchange also has formal partnerships with Lutheran World Relief, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, the American Friends Service Committee, the Church of the Brethren, the Mennonite Central Committee and Catholic Relief Services.  

More information can be found at http://gbgm-umc.org/umcor/hunger/coffee.cfm online.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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