I am currently in La Paz, Bolivia, on a mission to write my bachelor’s thesis in economics. The thesis is about agricultural cooperatives as economic organizations and the potential for development of such entities. The object of my study is a multilevel cooperative called El Ceibo. El Ceibo is the only chocolate producer in the world where the farmers are members of the same organization that actually produce chocolate products out of the bean, which means they get a part of the profit. More importantly, the chocolate is divine!
Today I visited the cooperative’s headquarters in El Alto, a city nearby La Paz. I met with the president and other members of the management, which really just are regular farmers elected democratically by each village-cooperative. It was a very interesting meeting and they prepared me for the field. I regretted mentioning that that their products going to European and North American markets are fair trade certified, however.To them the products were still not fair. The payment to regular farmers is still low, and they lead hard lives. The products that they export to international markets may actually benefit the farmers with a price premium. But a fairly low demand for fair trade products in western societies creates an excess supply of fair trade products and the farmers are forced to sell parts of the production to domestic markets as non-fair trade. However, the management staff pointed out other types of benefits that comes with the cooperative life style. It simply makes investments and relative security a reality.
A difficulty for El Ceibo is the competition of non-honest firms, such as producers that avoid paying taxes or that market non-organic products as being organic. Such companies may actually be able to offer a higher price for cocoa to the farmers. This, perhaps, demonstrate the importance of certifications and controls that guarantee that a product is really organic.
To learn more about El Ceibo, visit http://www.elceibo.org