Kona Coffee Farmers’ Labeling Woes: A Cautionary Tale for Hawaii Cacao Farmers

By Maria Carl, 21 Degrees Estate Cacao Farm

A recent story that’s making national news, which focuses on the trials and tribulations the Kona coffee industry faces due to labeling issues, caught my attention. Given the obvious parallels to the fledgling cacao industry here in Hawai‘i, the HCCA’s recent win in advocating for Hawaii-grown cacao/chocolate labeling cannot be understated!

The Kona coffee farmers association story is a cautionary tale for the need to protect and advocate for our industry and our farmers. In the article, they discuss how a 1-pound bag with the Kona coffee label can vary wildly in price — from as little as around $5 for the mass-produced blends made possible with cheap land and labor in developing countries, to up to $40 for the pure beans and grounds grown on local property. The problem, according to the 250-plus small growers of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association, is that the big producers label their packaging almost the same way as the pure coffee producers, except for small print on the bag that says it’s a 10 percent blend. And this year could be the association’s best (and last) chance to have a state law revised that would require these blends to include at least 51 percent Kona coffee — and disclose where the rest of the product comes from.

“The danger is, these blends are going to drive Kona coffee to extinction,” says Bruce Corker, the association president who owns a 4-acre farm of his own.

“It’s enough of a challenge to make money from coffee when countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam hold an advantage, thanks to a relative low cost of land — less than $3,000 an acre in some places, compared to the $40,000 per acre it can cost for farmland in Hawai‘i. Labor can run 80 percent less in Southeast Asia as well, the reason even Colombian coffee farmers have gone on strike several times in the last few years while they demanded better subsidies.”

Author Ryan Hiraki writes “Going up against the big guys in Hawai‘i is another battle. In the past, major sellers never used to have to label their bags with the fraction of their product that was made up of Kona coffee. Smaller growers lobbied fiercely for a 51 percent minimum, and while a new law passed in the early 1990s, it required only 10 percent Kona coffee in the blends. (Hawaii Coffee Company, one of the big coffee producers, declined to comment on the law.)”

Bottom Line: Hawaii Cacao farmers and chocolate makers need to be united in how our industry is shaped. HCCA was formed to advocate for and tackle just these issues. Often using lessons learned the hard way from our coffee industry brethren, we’ve worked hard—and continue to work hard—to ensure Hawaii-grown cacao is labeled properly and justly. Thanks for your continued support of HCCA!

To read the entire story, follow this link: http://www.ozy.com/fast-forward/hawaiis-kona-coffee-farmers-fight-back/67831?utm_source=AOL&utm_medium=pp&utm_campaign=pp