Co-op Chocolate Provides Sweet Solidarity

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Forget the usual conference trinkets. The NFCDCU made a sweet statement by instead distributing a gourmet chocolate bar to attendees of its 32nd Annual Meeting and 4th Latino Credit Union Conference here.

The accompanying message: produced by small farmers and cooperatives in Ecuador in accordance with strict environmental and labor standards.

The story goes back to Senegal, explained Federation Executive Director Cliff Rosenthal. "The Federation sent me to an international conference in Dakar last November," he said, "which brought together 1,200 people from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and North America. I got to meet with people organizing cooperatives of small coffee growers to give farmers a better price and more control over the distribution of their product. It became clearer to me than ever that the American consumer could have an enormous influence over the way the food and other commodities are raised in the Third World. And where better to start than cooperatives?"

The sustainable agriculture movement emphasizes minimal feasible use of agro-chemicals, increased emphasis on quality, fair labor conditions, and pricing that ensures a livelihood for farmers and workers.

The nonprofit Rainforest Alliance, in partnership with Ecuador-based organizations, works to sustain and promote sustainable practices and certifies the farms and co-ops that meet those standards.

In Ecuador, the production of cocoa-the chief ingredient of chocolate-shifted over recent decades from shade-growing in and around environmentally sensitive forests, to cleared land, where a lower-quality hybrid, dependent on heavy use of chemicals and grown under industrial conditions, has supplanted the traditional variety.

"Many of us are concerned about the downside of globalization," said Rosenthal. "This is an opportunity to show the potential upside, the way that we in the United States can link with our counterparts around the world and help improve their lives. Credit unions are sustainable financial cooperatives. We've got a lot in common with our counterparts in the Third World."

After sampling the chocolate, Federation participants agreed: sustainability can be sweet, indeed.

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