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!”
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.
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.