How Your Choice of Chocolate Can Help Reforest Haiti
By Meg Wilcox
Read any article about Haiti's environment and you'll encounter the same grim statistic, that 98 percent of the country is deforested. That's hard to fathom. How could a country possibly have only two percent tree cover?
Death by a Thousand Cuts, a 2016 film that tells the tale of a brutal murder related to Haiti's charcoal trade, shines a light on the forces behind the nation's dismal environmental state.
Trucks carrying bags of wood charcoal, the major cooking fuel source for Haitians and a key driver of deforestation.Patrick Dessources
Beyond the legacy left by the French, grinding poverty is a root cause, with per capita income in Haiti just $828 in 2014. Two-thirds of Haitians are subsistence farmers and the vast majority cook their food with wood charcoal. Charcoal production fuels deforestation, which leads to soil erosion, loss of productive agricultural land and a vicious cycle of poverty.
But, wait, what does this have to do with your chocolate bar?
Chocolate, of course, comes from cocoa, which grows on trees. It needs shade and that means cocoa farms are often found in forests, at the base of mountains. Cocoa is, surprisingly, Haiti's third largest export crop. In fact, if you visit Haiti's verdant cocoa region in the north, near Cap-Haïtien, that 98 percent deforestation statistic belies what you'll see.
Cocoa grows in Creole Gardens, rare forested areas in Haiti. Pictured are Nocelyn Preval aka "Chiquito," a worker at a cocoa processing facility and cocoa farmer Merviel Chilmise.
In northern Haiti, some 4,000 smallholder farmers harvest cocoa in agroforestry systems called creole gardens. Garden is an understatement, as these dense tangles of vegetation are forests with larger coconut, breadfruit, mango and avocado trees that tower over and offer shade to the smaller cocoa trees, as well as food for the farmers. Smaller banana trees are also intercropped into the system.
Cocoa farms are one of the few places in Haiti with standing trees and cocoa farmers have incentive to protect that greenery. Pierre Daniel Phelizor, for example, a cocoa farmer of 15 years, told me that his favorite pastime is planting new trees and that he runs a small nursery, selling cocoa, breadnut and mango trees to other farmers. Phelizor does not sell his trees to the ubiquitous charcoal traders.
Pierre Daniel Phelizor, Haitian cocoa farmer says he's "doing real business with his cocoa trees" now that he's selling into the specialty chocolate market.
So what does this have to do with your choice of chocolate bar? Bear with me.
One way to fight deforestation is to expand the production of cocoa and other tree crops in Haiti, like mango and avocado—and at the same time also help improve Haitian's lives and keep them from turning to the lucrative charcoal trade in the first place.
Fermented cocoa beans drying at Produits de Iles S.A.(PISA), a private cocoa processing company in the north of Haiti.
"In terms of reforesting the country, cocoa is one of the best crops you can use," said Ralph Denize, of FOMIN (Multilateral Investment Fund) in a phone call. FOMIN is partnering with Catholic Relief Services, a financier Root Capital and the Swiss Government to help expand and strengthen Haiti's cocoa industry.
Haiti currently exports only 4,000 metric tons of cocoa per year, a big drop from its peak of 20,000 metric tons in the 1960s and far less than neighboring Dominican Republic, which exported 70,000 metric tons in 2014.
Gilbert Gonzales, inside the cocoa fermentation facility at the company he founded Produits de Iles S.A. (PISA), in the north of Haiti.
Revitalizing the industry is one way to help expand Haiti's forest cover.
And here is where your choice of chocolate bar comes in.
The vast majority of Haiti's cocoa beans are sold and exported in their raw, unprocessed state for mass-produced chocolate. Farmers earn very little for that and it's one of the reasons why cocoa production has dropped in Haiti. A quasi-monopoly buyer has also kept prices paid to Haitian farmers low.
Fermented or processed, beans are what dark chocolate and specialty chocolate bars are made from and they can earn farmers up to twice as much.
To date, however, there are scant few fermentation processing facilities in the country where Haitian farmers can bring their beans.
Now different players in the cocoa industry are working to expand that fermentation capacity, from private companies and farmer cooperative associations to specialty chocolate manufacturers and financiers. They aim to rebuild Haiti's cocoa industry while providing farmers with a better life.
Taza Chocolate's single origin Haitian chocolate bar.
"Moving from unfermented to fermented cocoa is about keeping the value added in the country," Denize told me.
And that in turn motivates farmers like Phelizor to take good care of their trees. Phelizor says in fact that he is "doing real business with his cocoa trees" now that he's selling into the specialty market.
If you buy a standard issue milk chocolate bar, you're likely eating a blend of cocoa beans from different countries, with a lot of sugar and fillers to boot. If you buy what's known as a "single origin," specialty chocolate bar you can actually select where the cocoa beans were grown. And if you're a chocolate connoisseur, you can pick the flavor, as each origin has distinctive notes, much like wine and coffee.
You can do that now for Haiti, which happens to produce an exquisite chocolate flavor, with fruity notes, owing to its prized cocoa varietals. The first chocolate manufacturer in the U.S. to produce and market a single origin bar, with 84 percent Haitian cocoa beans, is Taza Chocolate. Taza is the pioneer, but we can expect to see more chocolate bars marketed with Haitian cocoa, as Uncommon Cacao, a broker that sells to many specialty chocolate manufacturers, has recently entered Haiti's market.
So the next time you buy a chocolate bar, think about choosing one made with Haitian cocoa and make a small contribution toward helping to reforest the country while improving impoverished farmers lives.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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