Abel Fernandez at St. Mary of the Angels

For over ten years, the Catholic parish of St. Mary of the Angels in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, has been a constant and significant supporter of Equal Exchange and the farmers we represent. St. Mary’s serves Equal Exchange coffee at fellowship after Mass and re-sells thousands of dollars’ worth of coffee, chocolate and other products at quarterly table sales.

A significant number of parishioners at St. Mary’s are originally from the Dominican Republic, where Equal Exchange has a close and longstanding relationship with CONACADO, the National Confederation of Dominican Cacao Producers. CONACADO has supplied us with cacao for our chocolate bars for 13 years.   A coincidence a few years ago illustrated the importance of the Dominican connection. When an Equal Exchange staffer was at St. Mary’s presenting some Power Point slides of farmer-members of CONACADO, one of the parishioners in the audience pointed to a slide and cried out “That’s my cousin!”

 

A smiling man crouches beneath a tree heavy with cacao pods.
Vlademir of CONACADO poses with cacao pods in the Dominican Republic.

 

On a recent Sunday after Mass, Abel Fernandez, one of the founders of CONACADO, spoke at St. Mary’s, to a mostly Dominican audience. He related the history of his cooperative, from its beginning in 1985 with 700 members and and growth  to its current size of over 10,000; and its effect on the Dominican cacao industry. Before CONACADO, he said, Dominican cacao was of low quality, and mostly sold for a below-market price to candy companies in the United States. The industry was controlled by a few processors who set the “take-it-or-leave-it” price.

CONACADO changed the industry in the Dominican Republic in many ways. They:

  • introduced new processing methods that greatly increased the quality of the exported cacao;
  • found premium buyers in Europe who would pay better prices;
  • connected with Fair Trade buyers, who add a social premium to the price they pay, for use in community development projects;
  • introduced extension services that brought their farmer-members better cultivation practices;
  • and connected with sources of affordable credit for their members, ultimately starting their own savings and loan.

The cooperative offers farmers an alternative to the oligopoly of fat-cat processors. Currently, about a quarter of the Dominican Republic’s small cacao farmers are members of CONACADO.

 

A man, Abel Fernandez, talks to two women about fair trade cacao. A chocolate fountain sits in the foreground.
Abel Fernandez of Conacado talks to Yania Peralta, an EE worker-owner, and others.

 

Abel’s presentation was accompanied by chocolate croissants and a chocolate fountain, both made with Equal Exchange chocolate. The fountain also used Equal Exchange organic and fairly traded bananas for dipping—it was a big hit with the children.

About The Author

Peter Buck

1 COMMENT

  1. Madalyn | 20th Jul 18

    It was a wonderful opportunity to hear Abel’s business perspective on how effective the Fair Trade system is! His message was clear that the cooperative has been an economic success in the lives of the cacao farmers and their communities!

    When will EE be organizing a trip to the DR? 🙂

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