WHY WE ADMIRE THE ALLIANCE OF RURAL COMMUNITIES (ARC)
In 2018, I attended a talk given by Gillian Goddard at the Northwest Chocolate Festival’s “Unconference.” This photo with the data she presented has been burned into my mind ever since. Even in the cocoa producing country of Trinidad and Tobago, rural communities earn ~9% of the total value of the products their foundational work makes possible. The ratio she presented is 2-3x more than the world average. The rhetorical questions remain – 1. Is it fair?, and 2. Is it enough?
While the world continues to simply talk about solutions, Gillian and her counterparts are actively working to enlarge the pie – not only for rural communities, but also for the entire value chain in the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Their very practical, holistic groundwork translates global macro-economic trends into integrous and viable, albeit hard-earned, rural solutions.
For many in the craft chocolate industry, chances are you already know Gillian and her pioneering work through ARCTT and Sun Eaters Chocolate. For those who haven’t yet heard or tasted their decolonialized chocolate, you’re in for an incredible treat. Follow TheNewRuralTT on Instagram and Facebook. Stock-up on their dark chocolate and cocoa products at Soul and Story, Inc. (and add recent blog features Askanya and '57 Chocolate to your cart while there).
Now, in Gillian’s own words…
HOW THE ARC EMPOWERS WOMEN
Linking Rural and Urban – Including Market Access
It’s difficult for rural communities to make the linkages with urban communities that are essential for economic success. The model is designed with raw materials being purchased at a pittance and most of the financial value of a product being accessible only through processing. In the past - in order to solve this raw material/processing dilemma - many organizations transferred skills to rural communities; but without the rigorous preparation for access to markets, and without the relationships with the stores and distributors there was little possibility of new skills being transferred to any significant sales (emphasis mine). ARC acts as business coach, incubator and distributor to ensure financial success and high levels of brand exposure.
Creating Opportunities for Consumers and Vendors to be Part of Structural Solutions
Very few chocolate makers dare speak up about inequity in land ownership, rural/urban inequity, environmental degradation or other such challenging topics. We’re one of the only chocolate makers or food processors in Trinidad and Tobago doing so. It puts us in a tricky position sometimes because the population has learned to separate economic activity from the enabling environment required for this activity to take place. We look elsewhere for our many problems to be solved - mainly towards the government - and ignore the community responsibility of consumers and of vendors. Or we see Corporate Social Responsibility programs as being enough. The problems are growing and the CSR programs are a drop in the ocean.
Hopefully we are driving a cultural change which will allow us to integrate ideas of equity at every level of human and economic activity so that we’re not left implementing tiny solutions to solve large structural issues.
Collaborating for Change in Challenging Conditions
In general women are accustomed to having to problem solve under very challenging conditions. Developing a rural business allows them to put these skills into practice so that every obstacle we encounter soon finds a solution. We are accustomed to working collaboratively and to verbalizing our ideas. These already in place cultural behaviors make our projects work much more easily.
HOW GILLIAN WAS AND IS EMPOWERED
Even as a Young Girl
Personally I’ve been supporting women and girls to develop financial autonomy since I was a little girl AND supporting financially marginalized communities on the whole to do the same. I am descended from a long line of economically marginalized, mainly matriarchal, families. Very early on I began feeling frustrated from many of the limitations I was experiencing as a young girl and I spent a lot of time trying to push back on these limitations and to figure out how I could live a bigger life than was possible to me.
The Bigger Life – Inspiring Women Caring for Community
After many years of trial and error it’s a bit clearer that the definition of ‘big’ that I thought I was seeking was also determined by a patriarchal gaze and that relationship, something I saw the women around me tending nonstop, is as big as it gets. I’ve been really lucky to have known many women who, despite severe economic poverty, found incredibly creative and resilient ways to live good lives and to care for the community. Every day I hold them in my mind and my heart as inspiration.
The Women who Have Gone Before
Isabelle Brash, Cocobel, was one of the first chocolate makers in modern Trinidad. She gave us a lot of unhesitant technical support in the early days as we took on the journey. We’ve also been supported and encouraged by Liz Montano, the mother of one of the biggest artistes in the Caribbean, and the family has gone on to become chocolate makers themselves.
But most important of all have been the other team members in my chocolate adventure - The Alliance of Rural Communities of Trinidad and Tobago - who rise to the occasion every day to find ways to live unselfishly and in alliance with others. Mellisa Hernandez, Ethelreda Lewis, Yvonne Maraj, Kelly Fitzjames in particular who have stuck through this often difficult path towards a workable model for others.
ABOUT THE ALLIANCE OF RURAL COMMUNITIES (ARCTT)
ARC is a network across the Caribbean that creates rural collaboratives which create products and services from their own raw materials. We focus on cocoa and chocolate but also include the many other crops which grow in a cocoa polyculture system and the different tourism experiences possible in such an ecosystem. Their cocoa and chocolate products include cocoa balls, cocoa powder, and cocoa butter.
Rural Collaboratives Locations:
- Brasso Seco,Trinidad.
- Biche and Cushe, Trinidad.
- Grande Riviere, Trinidad.
- Caura Valley, Trinidad.
- Micoud, St Lucia