Vegan Cashew Milc Chocolate and Sustainability in Madagascar

Cashew Trees in Madagascar

Our Vegan-milc chocolates have been incredibly successful since their launch last Easter, and we are increasing our range with a new Vegan-milc chocolate Caramel Crunch bar. So it seems timely to examine how Cashew-milc chocolate is made on Madagascar and the sustainability of Cashew nut production on the island.

Back in 2005 the idea of Raisetrade (7), or Equitrade as it was then named, was a radical new concept. The Independent named the scheme as one of fifty ideas for the 21st century (1) and The Guardian named it the World’s fairest chocolate in 2008. (2)

Malagasy, the first Equitrade firm in the world, says it “will not sell cash crops from Madagascar at pence per kilogram, so that other companies can sell them at pounds per kilogram in international markets”. Malagasy’s (meaning from Madagascar) chocolate is classed as “equitably traded” and this means it shares the income it receives from selling its finished product abroad equally with its various suppliers at home in Madagascar. Equitrade tries to ensure that, not only does a product’s raw materials originate from a poor community, it also tries to ensure it is manufactured, packaged and even marketed from there too.

But it wasn’t an easy journey, there was push-back from other chocolate companies, perhaps surprisingly from some you would expect to be supportive – ‘divine intervention’ you might say!

Raisetrade founder Neil Kelsall recounts…

People thought we were mad to try and export chocolate from Africa, they told us it can’t be done

 

Political instability led to the company’s initial efforts under the Malagasy brand faltering. Undeterred the company regrouped and relaunched under the Chocolat Madagascar brand in 2013 with the addition of a business-to-business model. It was at this time we first met Neil and became one of Chocolat Madagscar’s first UK partners. 

Cashew Nuts in Madagascar

Cashew nut plantations were planted in small scale in the vicinity of the Masiloka great lake in the North-West of Madagascar in 1999 in a region known for degraded grass lands, renowned as infertile and even sterile. The project is a joint partnership with the WWF (6) and as such forms a unique sustainable development model, the first with a Southern Agribusiness. 

In a joint report with the WWF (4) the project aimed to introduce high grade and high quality cashew kernel production in Madagascar. The project has an holistic development scheme with the creation of an employment sink, social development, and environmental improvement to produce a sustainable yield of very high quality products which could be labelled Organic and sold on niche markets where the prices are less sensitive to fluctuation than on the bulk market.

The project has been assessed by Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) Professor Albrecht for potential carbon sequestration and negotiations are currently under way to be included in a Carbon Credit scheme financing under the Clean Development Mechanism, first introduced in the Kyoto protocol. An equivalent of 800,000 tons of CO2 for the 6,500 ha of plantation of cashew nut trees coming to maturity.

The project identified a unique species of previously unknown palm tree that is now protected – the Tahina Spectabilis, discovered by a Cashew Nut farmer and listed as critically endagered (5)..

The full joint WWF report highlights many of positive benefits of this project, but here are a few  points that might not occur to a reader in a western context, but are crucial to sustainable development…

  • Commitments to avoid the use of child labour or forced labour in company operations. The file for each wage earner includes a copy of his identity card (and in Madagascar, only of age people have a national identity card)
  • Commitments to avoid discrimination and for the fair and equitable treatment of all employees
  • Commitments to freedom of association and rights of assembly.
  • Free of charge monthly distribution of rice in the order of 9 kg of rice per family member for each wage earner. This is in the context of price instability and shortages.
  • Facilitation of access to medical care to wage earners and to their assignees through the medical centres and dispensaries including medical insurance. There is no NHS in Madagascar!
  • The building of schools, health dispensaries and clean drinking water sources.

As the Cashew Plantation has come to maturity Chocolat Madagascar have become the first customer with the introduction of their Vegan Milc chocolate. The processing of the Cashew nuts is very labour intensive and small scale leading to a higher price than conventional milk chocolate. It is likely that an organic certified version of the chocolate will become available when the Cashew plantation is certified organic. Currently like the Cashew nuts the chocolate production is small scale. But it does mean that all of the constituent crops are grown, harvested and a finished product produced in Madagascar, adding value at origin.

The Future

The Vegan Cashew-milc chocolate project encompasses what I believe is the best of Raisetrade and why this relatively new trading model offers a real chance to meet the UN Sustainable development goals in Madagscar. 

I hope that in this post i’ve explored many of the often hidden steps in a supply chain that show why a finished chocolate product should be a higher priced luxury product if it is to be produced in a manner that enhances for the long term rather than exploits for the short term.

Would we expect our French friends to export grapes for processing into wine in another country, sold as a commodity at the lowest price? No! So why is it acceptable to trade cocoa in this way?

So producing in the country of origin is the fairest way of improving skills and retaining tax revenues in the country of origin. It balances the supply chain and breaks the poverty trap of low cost commoditisation.

Life tastes better with Raisetrade – Rachel Treweek Bishop of Gloucester

References

(1) Fifty Great Ideas for the 21st Century – The Independent

(2) The World’s Fairest Chocolate – The Guardian

(3) Small-scale cashew nut processing – S H Azam-Ali and E C Judge
ITDG – Schumacher Centre for Technology and Development – Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby, Warwickshire, UK

(4) Unima and Sustainable Development in Madagascar- Joint Report with WWF

(5) Tahina Palm – https://globaltrees.org/threatened-trees/trees/tahina-palm/

(6) WWF Partnership in Madagascar https://wwf.panda.org/?unewsid=202534

(7) Raisetrade – http://www.raisetrade.com/