Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Hot Cocoa Belt Around the World -- Part III

Sowing a Bitter Harvest

Picked from the trees in which they grow, cocoa pods are plucked using cacao hooks and their beans harvested by hand. A single pod yields only 20 to 40 individual cocoa beans. Mounds of beans are then moved into slatted containers known as "sweating boxes," where they ferment, are then dried, washed and sacked for shipping. Nearly 400 cocoa beans are needed to yield one pound of chocolate. More than 600,000 tons, are typically consumed worldwide, putting small armies of women and children to work enduring long days of physical work.

March 8, 2011 marked the centennial anniversary of International Women's Day. The day was marked by celebrations worldwide of the myriad accomplishments made by women. And while the strides are many, on the African continent in particular, work is still sorely needed to address the ills of gender inequality, marginalization and social injustice currently endured by women throughout the region.

In West African enclaves of the Cocoa Belt, which rely on women and children as a cheap workforce for the labor intensive industry, there has been reported a rise in child trafficking, and an increase in prostitution and domestic abuse. Reports count more than 12,000 children have been trafficked into cocoa farms in Ivory Coast for the purposes of carrying out the work involved in harvesting the cocoa beans which make up nearly 40% of the world's supply.

Typically, children who prefer to go to school are made to work, forced through physical abuse, including threats, beating and starvation. Tactics also used on as are women. With communities reliant upon the industry, local societies dependent on the cheap workforce turn a blind eye and a cold shoulder to such abuses that are pervasive and all too common.

As tensions rise in this the second month of a country-wide ban on the sale of cocoa beans in the Ivory Coast, much of the violence prevalent in the Eastern part of the continent threatens to encroach upon the West. The simmering conflict between forces loyal to Gbagbo and Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner of November's presidential vote, has left at least 365 dead since December, according to CNN reports.

And things could get worse before they get better. Amid speculation that cocoa purchases and exports in Ivory Coast would now be carried out “exclusively" by the state, according to reports from the Financial Times, industry officials expressed doubt that such a plan could work.

Eric Sivry, at Marex Financial, the London-based commodities brokerage, told Financial Times, that one of the biggest questions was who would buy “contentious cocoa” from the rebel government. Already heavily taxed, cocoa in Ivory Coast is a key source of income for Mr. Gbagbo, who pays out $150m a month to civil servants and the military, according to diplomats.

In Ivory Coast's largest city, at least seven women were killed during a peaceful demonstration by women in Abidjan last week, and at least one person was shot by Gbagbo's troops during new clashes Monday, according to CNN reports. These events, in turn, drew another march by women protesting the killings, as men supporting Ouattara marched alongside the women to protect them.

More to come...

(c) 2011 Valerie Williams-Sanchez

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