Monday, April 16, 2012

The Plight of the Cacao Farmers

A campesina holds two cacao pods. 

Growers of cacao (that's the base ingredient for chocolate, not a notorious drug) marched thru Bogotá today appealing for government aid amidst plummeting prices for cacao beans and what they call unfair competition by neighboring countries.

'Injustice rides on the campesino's back.'
Cacao prices have plunged this year. And caco farmers said they're getting swamped by cheap imports from Ecuador and Venezuela, whose governments subsidize costs such as gasoline.

"We're working at a loss," said a farmer from Santander Department.

In recent years, world cacao production has boomed, while prices have dived.

The National Cacao Federation says that the buyers of the beans exercise a sort of oligopoly, buying cheaply from the poor and cash-strapped farmers. While world prices are at almost $4.000 per kilo, Colombian farmers get paid barely $3.000 for each kilo they sell. The Colombian peso's increase in value against the U.S. dollar has also made Colombia's harvest less competitive.
World cacao prices have plunged in recent years.
(Source: International Cocoa Organization.)

The intermediaries "pay whatever price they want and resell at whatever price they want," said an angry cacao farmer.

One solution, as with many commodities, would be to process Colombia's cacao into finished, consumer products such as candy bars, adding greatly to their value. Colombia does some of this, but not enough.

The government has promised some eight billion pesos of aid for the cacao growers, and has programs to produce improved cacao varieties, increase production and open new markets.

"The harvest dropped, prices dropped," said Cristobal Reyes, who farms 10 hectares in Santander Department. "We can't take it any more."

Chocolate treats, many of which appear to be imported, for sale in downtown Bogotá.

A sidewalk vendor offers imported chocolates. 

Cacao farmers in front of the Ministry of Agriculture. 

Cacao pods on a tree. 

Not yet roasted cacao beans. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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