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What would an "ideal" ethical certification program look like?

The pros and cons, ins and outs, ups and downs, and good and bad of existing social certification programs have been an ongoing topic for discussion here on TheChocolateLife, most recently in this discussion sparked by a thesis examining a Fairtrade coffee co-op in Laos.

Let's step back for a moment, and rather than try to dissect what's bad (and good) about existing systems, let's start from scratch and outline what the elements of an ideal system would be.

I started a discussion around a specific approach (a VAT-like system) at for anyone who is looking for a little inspiration.

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well i have a kind of extreme micro level view as i live and work with cacao farmers and know their perspective, in this one place, very well.  here's what i would consider their primary concerns:

1. higher income

2. price stability

3. technical assistance (crop management, trimming, disease & pest control, irrigation, nursery/grafting/cloning)

4. credit against future harvests

5. no or very low cost to enter system

6. no additional admin / bureaucratic duties

7. no time wasting bs, especially in harvest season



this doesn't take into account realities on the buy / admin side, its a farmers wish list basically.  i'm sure these points will vary from place to place. you can see that based on these points organic and fair trade as currently set up aren't realistic here.

as a frame of reference, the farmers here are mostly in associations but no larger co-ops, of the type that operate in other areas in northern peru and in some cases already have fair trade / organic / other certs, almost universally financed by ngo's or usaid





Keeping the interests of the farmers in mind is an important principle, I think. Many of the systems are more about forcing Western European/North American values than about being "fair" really.

Also, the paying of certifications by NGOs and USAID/aid organizations provides zero incentive to reduce their cost and the producers get hosed when the aid money runs out.

How large would you say the average produce association is? Is technical assistance in post-harvest processing also needed/wanted?

Much of what NGO's do ends up being neutral or even harmful because they think in 3 year funding cycle timelines, and they say what funders want to hear to get their capital.  it takes a cacao tree 3 years to produce, 4 to produce to nearly full capacity, so farmers and ngo's have fundamentally different time perspectives.  to get funding they typically say something like "we will expand production from 150 to 400 Ha., form and strengthen associations and co-ops, assisting 500 families, provide tech assistance from crop management through post harvest, and help with marketing so they can export at fine and flavor prices, plus organic and fair trade."  in other words, impossible to do in 5-7 years, much less in 2 or 3.


i have run a non-profit before and know many people in that industry, they are nearly 100% good people with fine intentions, but this structural problem in how they attract capital and the length of their programs often ends up convincing farmers to invest in nonsensical things.  like, as you say, cert.'s and business practices that are not sustainable when the outside $$ go away.  And, as a businessman, i would say that the ngo folks are usually not businesspeople and when they get involved in marketing and logistics its not their strength.


As for USAID, they have lots of $$ and a mandate, and within the limits of that mandate i think they do a good job here in peru. I have said to them many times that some small % of the $$ should go to prevention in areas that are not yet coca producing, not just to increasing hectarage of cacao in current coca areas.  but like all govt. programs they do their best within strict guidelines, and they're good people, not like the caricature of bureaucrats.   


In my area the average association would be 50-60 producers, maybe?  some as many as 300+, some as small as a dozen farmers in one caserio.


post-harvest is interesting.  my project buys beans en baba, or with the pulp on, strictly separated by variety, and we do all the post-harvest, and export into the fine market.  farmers here love the model because most of them are coffee farmers as well, and right as the cacao harvest is heavy the coffee ripens and they have no time to attend to their cacao.  in  my model, they spend 2 days a month on cacao, make more $$, and have more time for coffee.  in my area, most farmers just want to be rid of post-harvest.  but that may not be true in other areas, you would know better.  also, other than my project, there is no sales option here that gives a premium for quality, so any time spent on fermentation is time lost.


which is the long way of saying that there isn't a clamor for post-harvest training here, but that may be a local phenomenon.  if full fermenting and complete drying during the rainy season paid well and didn't cost high value time away from coffee i'm sure they would do it.




Your observations bring to the conversation just the sorts of nuances that only actual on-the-ground experience can bring to the issue. As outsiders, we walk into situations with assumptions about "the right way to do things" that are simply untenable when considered from the POV of the producer.

We can make the claim that better post-harvest processing is always better ... but if the buyer is unwilling to pay enough for the labor involved  (and no, ten cents per pound is not enough) and lost opportunity costs, then there is no economically justifiable (to the farmer) reason to invest their labor.

:: Clay

On the subject of premium for post-harvesting, I have seen big buyers in Vietnam offer 0-premium for post-harvest, meaning they will buy pods at 1/12 the price of dry beans per kg, which as far as I know is the weight ratio between pod and dry bean, so the 6 days of fermentation and week+ of drying is simply not remunerated. The way Brian sees it it should be a great boon for farmers "pods for the price of beans! yeah!", but I can't help thinking that in the long run it could be a dangerous game for farmers. If there's no money to be made in post-harvest then there's no need to invest in the know-how, the boxes, the drying racks... until such day comes when the buyer may no longer offer such a good deal for pods and the farmers are stuck because they no longer have the resources to do the post-harvest processing themselves. I guess it all boils down to the good or otherwise intentions of the buyers, I have no doubt Brian offers a really good deal to his farmers.

unfortunately everything is dangerous for a smallholder in a poor country, so much can go wrong and there is usually no margin for error.  no farmer can really trust the intentions of buyers, even me.  I could easily die on the dangerous highways of peru any time i take an overnight bus trip which is often.  but i do offer a good deal, fair and advantageous to the farmers, which is why they have responded.


you're right that the farmers may get stuck, but with or without me there's no incentive for them to do post-harvest.  and if i insist on them doing it then I'm forcing them to make an unnecessary investment AND sacrificing quality.  so you pick your poison and try to do the right thing while making sure everybody can make a living.


our ratio of wet beans to dry exportable is much less than half, in fact under 40%, which i think is normal.


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