The Story of Chocolate: Winner Robin Blotnick in the Huffington Post

Robin Blotnick has worked as a freelance editor, and as a developer at Walden Media. His current project, "Gods and Kings," is a feature documentary about media, magic and popular culture in the Mayan highlands of Guatemala. If it is anything like his award-winning entry for our ViewChange Online Film Contest — Chocolate Country — then we want to see it! Chocolate Country is a catchy story about a group of guitar-plucking cacao farmers in the Dominican Republic. In the Huffington Post, Blotnick describes the idea behind his work:

 

“The story I set out to tell was the story of chocolate itself. I wanted to show city people what a mazorca of cacao looks like when it's cut open to reveal its syrupy white seeds. And I wanted to reveal the faces of the men and women who grow and harvest the ingredients for our chocolate bars.”


The short film features the lush, beautiful rainforest region of Loma Guaconejo. The campesinos (farmers) of the area had decided to stop competing with each other against the harsh competition set out by the big cacao companies, and were now working together in a cooperative. They work to directly market an improved, organic product. Blotnick expresses his admiration for their enthusiasm to engage in their community:

 

Image from Chocolate Country“People always remark at how, despite their poverty, the cacao growers in Chocolate Country seem genuinely happy. I believe they're happy because they're empowered. Working together, they're taking some control over the fate of their community. My wish for the people of Loma Guaconejo is that they develop in a way that doesn't alleviate the bad by sacrificing what's good: the freedom of working without a plantation or factory boss, the music and stories they have time to create and share, their ties to the land and, most of all, their ties to one another.

"While being a "conscious consumer" no doubt does some good (or, more accurately, un-does some bad), I'm under no illusion that it's enough. If we really want to transform the conditions that maintain human suffering, we'll have to transform ourselves first, to break out of the passive role of consumer and unite with our neighbors to actively engage the forces of history. In other words, we'll have to be more like the members of the Loma Guaconejo cooperative.”


To hear the music and stories of the empowered campesinos, watch Chocolate Country below:

 

 

Read Robin Blotnick full article in the Huffington Post.

 
 

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Sweet Success - Using Chocolate to Defeat Cocaine in Peru

Cocoa pod on treeDuring my recent visit to Oro Verde Cooperative in Amazonian Peru, I stayed with a number of indigenous farmers who are supplying us with an incredible cocoa. It is incredible for its taste – last month our farmers took first and third place in the World Chocolate Competition in Paris!- but it is equally as incredible for the story behind the cocoa. These brave farmers have been growing cocoa beans as a replacement for the coca they have grown in the past to feed the deadly narco-traffic in cocaine.

We were the first company to import coffee from their village called Akan Shamboyaco (it was Alto Shamboyaco until my visit, when the people decided to reclaim the full name of their village from the Spanish Alto, meaning “high”). We are also the first and only company to import their sugar, paying the villagers ten times the amount they get on the local market. Yet it is the cocoa that has the most profound impact on the villagers’ lives.

Cocoa beans inside podCoca is an essential part of indigenous spirituality and the daily work life of many of the indigenous groups along the Peruvian Amazon and highlands. It provides energy for working at high altitudes and essential amino acids and vitamins not readily available in local foods. No problem there. But for the last two decades outsiders have come in and morphed the benign coca plant into the essential ingredient in cocaine production. In fact, by the end of the 1990’s this area accounted for more than a quarter of all cocaine production in Peru. The farmers received good money for the coca leaves that grow so easily here, but the price many paid was higher than the income gained. Farmers were harassed by Peruvian military and often arrested and jailed. Brutal narco dealers often forced farmers to grow more and more coca, kidnapping children (especially boys) to insure compliance and to gain “recruits” for the narco battles and allied extremist movements like the Shining Path, which was largely funded by cocaine. Drug dealers also set up cocaine processing sites throughout the jungles around Akan Shamboyaco and the many rivers in the Amazon basin at the foot of the area. The processing involved many hazardous chemicals, which were left to flow into water sources, poisoning fish and making water undrinkable.

Cocoa beans drying in the sun“It was a bad trade for us”, said Belmar sadly.  Belmar is a traditional leader in the village, although only in his late twenties.  We sat around a lantern at his house one night, hearing stories of political and social struggle of the people here. But Belmar brightened when he spoke of the economics of cocoa and coffee these days. “We still have a lot of problems in our community, but the money from the cocoa and the coffee is much better.  We don’t have to worry about the coca problems anymore.”

Oro Verde has done an amazing job in organizing so many isolated villages into a powerful and successful cooperative. But helping the villagers of Akan Shamboyaco to increase their income and gain independence from the cocaine trade may be the sweetest victory yet.

 
 

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