Without even checking the actual stats, we’re 100 percent sure that about half of all the commodities available on the free market include chocolate. With such an amazing demand for the product, surely there must be a sophisticated system in place to ensure that the world never runs out of the stuff. Because if, say, the whole chocolate industry was based entirely on Third World back-breaking manual labor, slave wages and actual child slavery that would be reason enough for a worldwide panic.
Actually, the majority of the world’s cocoa supply comes from West Africa, where the plantations are often tended to by slave children, but there is such thing as fair trade cocoa beans, with guaranteed “No slave labor!” certificates and stuff. Problem solved, right? Nope. (And it’s a little depressing when taking slavery out of the equation doesn’t immediately fix something.) The fact of the matter is that, currently, cultivating cocoa beans just isn’t worth it to the average West African farmer.
Not only is tending to cocoa trees insanely time-consuming (it takes up to five years to grow a new crop), but everything has to be done by hand in often unbearable heat. And at the end of the day, the average cocoa farmer can expect to earn about 80 cents a day for his trouble. That satisfying feeling that his product is contributing to America’s obesity epidemic is just not enough anymore, so in fewer than 20 years, chocolate might become an expensive rarity, like caviar. When was the last time you had caviar?
Editor’s note: On Dec. 3, the Kaua‘i Museum celebrates its 50th anniversary. Museum leaders have chosen 50 stories from exhibits, collections and the archives of the museum to share with the public. One story will run daily through Dec. 3.
LIHU‘E — For researching plantation history, the Gilmore Sugar Manuals, an annual report of U.S. sugar cane producers is invaluable. Published under various names, they reported statistics and interesting work done on individual plantations during the year. This is some interesting information collected from manuals from 1936 and 1948 when many plantations had begun to phase out rail.
Kilauea Sugar Plantation Co.
In 1936 the rail system was 11 miles of 24-gauge track, two 16-ton oil-fired Baldwin locomotives and 260 three-ton flare-door type cane cars which were discontinued in 1948.
Grove Farm Company, Ltd.
In 1936, harvesting transportation consisted of 13.5 miles of permanent 30-inch track and four miles of portable track. The cane cars used in harvesting belong to Lihu‘e Plantation where the cane was processed. In 1948, transportation equipment consisted of rail cars from Lihu‘e Plantation with trucks used to bring in harvested cane from isolated steep fields.
Funny how things work out. Our new mayor wants to take over plantation water systems (although when he had a chance four years ago, he backed down).
A couple of years ago, a combination of drought and low prices had HC&S on the ropes, and the board at A&B was beginning to wonder whether sugar was a business they wanted to be in. At best, it accounts for only about 7% of revenue. HC&S is such a small part of A&B that it cannot ever contribute largely to profits, although it can — and recently has — hammered them down.
Since A&B answers to Wall Street, which does not give a damn about Upcountry water meters, low sugar prices open the way to a county takeover of EMI. This would be a disaster, but, like I say, funny how things work out.
Arakawa’s in, sugar prices are up, A&B will presumably stick with HC&S for a while longer, the valley will be green and Kihei will not have to live through endless dust storms.