All very good questions ... and one of the reasons why the Goals and Objectives of the group are TBD.
What I would like to do is work toward a consensus about things this group would like to achieve, using as inspiration Ghandi's quote, "Be the change you want to see in the world."
I put up the ChipIn banner to see if anyone here was interested in contributing to a microfinance fund to help finance cacao and chocolate businesses in developing countries through Kiva.org. So far that has attracted no interest and I will take it down at the end of the month if there is still no interest in it.
One thing I could do is to organize trips to cocoa co-ops in places like Ecuador and Mexico where we could go and work alongside cacao farm families and participate in an activity that could add meaningful value to them. For example, the group that is traveling could collectively finance and then build a community cacao drying pad or fermentation facility.
These are just two examples (microfinance and eco-work/tours) of directly lending a hand.
I don't know that I have all the answers - or even any answers. I do want to start the dialog so that those of us who are interested can become involved and directly lend a hand.
that sounds fabulous--the service learning trip down to a cocoa co-op sounds amazing. i worked in americorps for a bit, where people i know created their own service learning trip to the border of mexico/texas...it seems like something like that could be a possibility related to chocolate. a non-student version would be great.
i'd like to see how people up in the states could make a difference from where they live, as well--does purchasing/promoting power really affect the co-ops as much as i would like to think it does? does it matter if i promote a delicious direct trade bar over a delicious non-enviro/socially responsible bar? which bars/companies are more/least responsible? is there a chart? has someone done research?
i don't really understand the micro-finance fund, and don't really have any extra money to be able to donate. what can those of us with limited funds do to help?
I agree that it should not just be up to NGO's or NPO's to assist tropical farmers.
The tropical farmers that need assistance usually do not have the ability to make their needs known - nor the time or resources to be involved in directing their futures beyond their fields.
Patricia Rain - aka the 'Vanilla Queen' - has been attempting to form the International Tropical Farmer's network with mixed success.
A more direct and commerce-driven approach to supporting tropical farmers would seem to be the best means to start ensuring a more level playing field for tropical farmers in second and third world countries.
With the advent of Internet trade and communication, I envision being able to import vanilla, chocolate and cocoa beans directly into the country from growers and co-ops and then selling the products directly to the consumers. This would ensure that a greater part of the profit goes directly to those who produced the goods.
This may not work on a large scale, but for gourmet and single-source, non-perishable tropical products, this would seem a good place to start.
I also like the concept of a micro-fund to promote cocoa farming. We may need to go beyond that to facilitate appropriate growth and assistance. Who has what types of cocoa plants where and would they be willing to share and assist others? Is there a cocoa plant registry anywhere? I'd be apt to pay to have some cocoa plants shipped from an established farmer to a start-up farm where I know that the fledgling farmer has the support to make a success of the new enterprise.
A working trip to a Mexican or South American cocoa farm? I'd like to be all over that. It would depend upon when and where.