Ecopolis is the annual meeting for those who are interested in a sustainable future and host different writers, thinkers and other mayor figures from everywhere, to discuss about solutions for a possible social-ecological society.
This year, the event took place on 17th of April in Kaaitheater in Brussels. It was focused on “chocolate”, one of the most requested and desired commodities worldwide, that in reality hides the weakness of its producers in global economic relations. Guests of the debate were Mamadou Bamba, director of “Ecookim” which is a union of eight cocoa cooperatives in Ivory Coast that work to improve the farming activities and living conditions of more than 2800 farmers,Isabelle Quirynen, who ran her own chocolate company, “Bitterzoet”,’ committed to Fair Trade principles and Olivier De Schutter, legal scholar specializing in economic and social rights and former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food from 2008 to 2014.
Cooperatives of small-scale producers were first controlled by governments and only from the eighties they started to be led by common people that through this tool gained voice in the international political field.
One of the central problems that the experts brought to light is the need for more attention to the necessities of producers rather than to the one of consumers. Indeed, the international market is right now mainly focused on the desires of the latter, which means lower price for their products, instead of fairer conditions for those who harvest the commodity. This attitude leads only to a vicious circle where low prices generate low salaries and overproduction while the latter creates again low prices. Another important issue is that producer countries import their finished products like chocolate from Northern countries, losing in this way their opportunity to play a key role in the international trade.
The challenge that cooperatives have to face are still several and changes in the system are necessary. During the debate, possible solutions to improve their conditions were presented. Among them, the idea to concentrate the all process within the product value chain in the producer country and to develop the local demand so that farmers would be less dependent from the global North. Second, because the business is dominated by few buyers there is a need to diversify these economies so that producers can develop alternatives and gain more access in the international market. Finally, in order to give added value to these products, there is a need for more investments in every single phase of the activities involved in its creation.
For further information about the challenges that the world’s food systems need to face, read the final report of Olivier De Schutter to the Human Rights Council.