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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Eat Chocolate and Support the Environment

Air Date: Week of

Embracing global issues, such as rain forest protection, is often a problem for many people. Now supporters of rain forests have a rallying support -- chocolate!


KNOY: Languages, of course, are not the only things vanishing from the Earth. Acre upon acre of the world's rainforest are lost each day, and along with them a certain plant species is disappearing. For years conservationists have searched for an issue that would motivate all levels of society to protect the rainforest. As commentator Suzanne Elston explains, they just may have found one.

ELSTON: One of the problems that we've had relating to big environmental issues is, well, they're just too big. Take protecting the rainforest, for example. Everyone knows they're the lungs of the planet and contain more than half the species found on Earth. But the impact of their destruction has never hit home for most people. Until now.

It turns out that as we destroy the rainforest, we're also destroying our ability to produce chocolate. The source of chocolate, the cocoa bean, is usually grown on large plantations. Unfortunately, this style of farming leaves the plants vulnerable to pests and disease. When that happens, the farmers just move on. They clear another strip of rainforest and plant new trees.

Now the problem is, we're running out of rainforest. Given the rate of deforestation and the fact that the demand for chocolate is rising steadily, chocolate officials say we're facing a global shortage within 10 to 15 years. Scientists, hoping to head off the potential crisis, discovered that cocoa plants prefer to grow under the canopy of the rainforest. So now, the huge multinational chocolate corporations that have helped to destroy the rainforests are actually working to protect them.

Within the next month or 2, a global cooperative funded by chocolate companies will be announced. Development agencies, conservation groups, agricultural experts, and even the United Nations will work alongside local farmers to create a sustainable system of cocoa farming. One of the more interesting projects will involve using cocoa plants as part of a reforestation effort to revitalize war-torn areas of Vietnam.

Now, the cynic in me is disappointed that it takes a chocolate crisis to motivate people into protecting one of our most valuable resources. But if corporate concern about the bottom line actually protects the rainforest, then I'm all for it. Who knows? In our efforts to save the endangered cocoa bean and the rainforest, we might even save the planet in the process.

(Tropical bird calls)

KNOY: Commentator Suzanne Elston lives in Courtice, Ontario. She comes to us by way of the Great Lakes Radio Consortium.



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