Cocoa producers in the Dominican Republic will get the opportunity to be involved in fair trade through Conacado, a Dominican organization aimed at improving the income and quality of life of small cocoa producers and their families. National Confederation of Dominican Cocoa Producers operation manager Abel Fernandez was one of several presenters at the University of Calgary's Fair Trade Forum.
"In the beginning we only had about 900 farmers," said Fernandez.
Conacado was founded in 1988 in response to the low international price of cocoa. Now the organization boasts 9,500 farmers.
"Conacado is working at the national level," he said. "We develop policies to be used in local and international markets."
Conacado consists of three organizational levels with the farmers forming small associations at the base. The second level involves Blocks, which operate in each of the provinces. The highest level is Conacado itself, working nationally and internationally.
According to Fernandez, in addition to improving the quality of life of the cocoa producers, Conacado is dedicated to community development and preservation of the environment.
"The funds generated by the premium price [of fair trade cocoa] are reinvested in education, health, construction of nursery products, as well as building infrastructure," he said.
Cocoa produced by farmers is almost entirely consumed overseas, with only one per cent sold locally. Eighty-five per cent goes to Europe, while 14 per cent is sold to Canada and the United States.
Cocoa production in the Dominican faces many challenges, including worker demographics, explained Fernandez.
"Much of the farmers in the Dominican Republic are 55 to 60 years old," he said. "We should involve the young people in cocoa production."
Other challenges facing farmers include rehabilitation after natural disasters and the development of new niche markets.
Fernandez emphasized the importance of equal opportunity for men and women, the elimination of forced child labour and respectful environmental policies in fair trade practices.