How The Chocolate Industry Holds Ghana’s Cocoa Farmers Hostage

Photo credit: Charisse Kenion

Ghanian cocoa farmers do not make a living wage and succumb to poverty at the hands of the chocolate industry. Multinational companies hold farmers hostage by preventing them from diversifying their crops.

Farmers routinely diversify their crops based on physical and financial resources. For instance, if suitable land to produce a particular crop becomes limited, the farmer plants another crop that is more suited for the conditions. Farmers also diversify their crops, if they cannot fetch a desirable price for their crop.

Tropical forestland is needed to grow cocoa. It’s in limited supply. Therefore, farmers want to diversify their land to feed and provide for their families — basically to survive.

Last May I published, The Unfortunate Casualty of The World’s Love For Chocolate, which talks about how clearing for cocoa is the leading cause of deforestation in Ghana. Ghana is losing its rainforest faster than any other country in the world.

This is a threat to the profits of multinational chocolate companies. They can no longer slash and burn forests to make way for more cocoa farms, but they insist on spending money on cocoa farming to the detriment of the cocoa farmer.

Over time, as the land becomes exhausted, the farmer must rework the land. This makes it costlier for the farmer to cultivate the land. It’s estimated that the cost of maintaining an exhausted farm is double the customary costs.

Not only does the cocoa farmer suffer, but workers and end users suffer. Continued use of exhausted land requires more labor. Hence, the use of child labor increases. Fertilizer and pesticide use also increases to aid exhausted farmland. Therefore, the end user is potentially subjected to harmful chemicals.

Everyone suffers except the chocolate industry. They generate over $80 Billion a year. Supplying chocolate to wealthy countries should not come at the cost of the farmer’s future nor precious tropical forestland.

Tanzania Is Home To A Newly Discovered Species Of Fish Called, “Wakanda”

Photo credit: H.T. Pinheiro and B. Shepherd

In a life imitating art discovery, deep-sea diving scientists from the University of Sydney and California Academy of Science Hope for Reefs, have found a new species of fairy wrasses fish – Cirrhilabrus wakanda, off the east coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania, Africa.

The Cirrhilabrus wakanda is part of a group of fairy wrasses from the western Indo-Pacific Ocean. There are eight species recorded from the western Indian Ocean, which is where “Wakanda” was discovered. There is a nine-species complex of fairy wrasses from the western Pacific Ocean.

They named this new genus “Wakanda” due to the similarities in appearance of the fish and the Black Panther’s suit. The Cirrhilabrus wakanda is a small colorful fish. It has facial stripes above and below the eyes with prominent purple chain-like scales reminiscent of the fictional rare vibranium metal woven into Black Panther’s suit.

Another similarity between the Cirrhilabrus wakanda and the fictional Wakanda is that they both inhabit a secretive reef off of the east coast of Africa. The “Wakanda” fish lives in a small patch of reefs dominated by rhodolith and sponge beds 50-80m below the ocean.

This isolated reef is part of the mesophotic coral ecosystem. Whew! That’s a mouthful. They’re also known as “twilight” reefs. They’re light-dependent coral ecosystems that have very low light penetration.

Who would have thought movies would transcend pop culture and enter the scientific world? Hopefully, this will bring awareness to the mission of the California Academy of Science Hope for Reefs to protect and preserve little-known habitats.

Wakanda, forever!

The Amazon Fires Bring Attention To The Importance Of Plants And Photosynthesis

Photo credit: Getty Images

While the recent fires in the Amazon Rainforest have the world captivated, it makes me think about the importance of plants. They are key to life on Earth.

I remember sitting in Mr. Hopely’s ninth grade biology class and learning about photosynthesis. In a nutshell, photosynthesis is the process by which plants use the energy from the sun to convert water and carbon dioxide into glucose. This makes plants the primary producers of their own food, energy, and growth.

What does that have to do with us? Plants and living creatures have a cyclical interdependence. In the process of photosynthesis, we get a valuable by-product – oxygen. Plants produce the majority of free oxygen in the air. As we humans inhale oxygen, we exhale carbon dioxide. Therefore, we’re providing an important component to photosynthesis. This helps plants create more food, oxygen, and water. Photosynthesis also helps maintain the balance of carbon dioxide in nature.

That brings me back to the Amazon Rainforest and the ongoing fires. There are roughly 40,000 species of plants living in the forest. Nearly one-third of the land photosynthesis occurs in tropical forests. The largest is in the Amazon Basin.1

When deforestation regulations are relaxed to create more land for farmers, it does more harm than good. If you clear out huge swaths of plants, you decrease their ability to supply necessary nutrients and energy.

Living organisms and fire consume all oxygen.2 Humans and animals are living organisms. All living creatures on earth need plants for life and survival.  Bottom line: life cannot exist without plants and photosynthesis.

Is UV Exposure Really Linked To Skin Cancer?

Photo credit: Dazzle Jam

I recently read the New York Times article, Should Black People Wear Sunscreen? A dermatologist speculates that UV sun exposure is not related to skin cancer. He postulates that if it were the case, there’d be a skin cancer epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. He says sunscreen is not promoted there as it is in America.

I use my SPF 30 mineral sunscreen everyday—rain or shine. When it comes to my skin and health, I don’t want to take any chances. People of color are usually left out of clinical trials regarding sunscreen protection. Therefore, precise recommendations are scarce and/or not specifically tailored to us. Hence, I err on the side of conservancy until more research is gathered.

With that said, I have my own theory as to why we don’t hear about a skin cancer epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. I believe it’s the ingredients in their skincare products. There are over a dozen clues to support my conclusion. Here’s a good list to start.

  1. Mongongo Oil (also called Manketti) contains antioxidant vitamin E and alpha-eleostearic acid. Both protects from UV rays. Mongongo oil is used in Africa for this purpose.
  2. Marula Oil contains fatty antioxidants, which scavenges free radicals. It has essential fatty acids to help build your stratum corneum (outer layer of the skin).
  3. Moringa Oil has antioxidant vitamin C, which fights off free radicals caused by the sun, which leads to wrinkles and cancer. It also has essential fatty acids, which helps build your skin barrier.
  4. Baobab Oil is packed with antioxidant vitamin E for UV protection. The omega fatty acids are building blocks to healthy cell membranes. The polyunsaturated fats help produce skin’s natural oil barrier.
  5. Kalahari Melon Seed Oil contains omega-3, 6, and 9 fatty acids, which builds healthy cell membranes.
  6. Nilotica Shea Butter contains antioxidant vitamin E to kick free radical in the pants. The essential fatty acids help build your skin barrier. And it boasts an SPF value about 3-4.
  7. Mafura Butter/Oil contains essential fatty acids to help build your skin barrier.
  8. Ximenia Oil (also called Wild Plum or Monkey Plum) is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. Hello healthy cell membrane.
  9. Maracuja Oil is rich in antioxidant vitamin C, which tackles free radicals.
  10. Argan Oil is high in antioxidant vitamin E. Bye-bye free radicals. It also boasts essential fatty acids for healthy cell membranes.
  11. Sesame Oil has antioxidant vitamin E giving free radicals a one-two punch. Essential fatty acids round out this oil, too.
  12. Avocado Oil contains the free-radical fighting antioxidant vitamin E. The essential fatty acids build healthy cell membranes
  13. Yangu Oil contains antioxidants for natural UV protection.
  14. Macadamia Oil is rich in essential fatty acids to bid free radicals adieu.  It’s similar to human sebum (natural oil produced by your skin).

I’m no dermatologist or scientist, but you can’t deny that there may be a correlation between their skincare products and UV sun protection. That’s just my two-cents, folks.

White Gold: East Africa Holds The Key To The Next Beauty Superfood

Photo credit: Frans Van Heerden

Cleopatra is renowned for her beauty. She bathed in camel’s milk, honey and roses daily for soft, supple skin. Her famed milk baths are a beauty ritual still practiced today.

Today, East Africa holds the key ingredient – camel’s milk – for beautiful skin. Camels are abundant in East Africa. Somalia boasts one of the largest populations of camels in the world. Kenya, its neighbor to the south, holds the fifth largest camel population in the world. Camels provide a direct livelihood to Kenyan camel farmers, causing new entrepreneurs to call it, “white gold.”

And as the Beyoncé lyrics asks and answers, “Who run the world? Girls!” That’s right. Female pastoralists in Kenya are the frontrunners of the camel industry. It only makes sense that women are on the frontline of beauty remedies.

Now that I’ve gotten out my women’s empowerment anthem, I’ll tell you what’s the big to-do about camel’s milk. Camel’s milk boasts amazing benefits for skin, hair and nails. This applies to both drinking and applying camel’s milk topically.

  • Camel’s milk is a natural probiotic. Probiotics keep a healthy gut flora. The gut and skin are interconnected. Therefore, when your gut is healthy, your skin is healthy.
  • Camel’s milk is antibacterial and antimicrobial. The alpha hydroxy acid, lactic acid, helps combat bacteria. Hence, it removes germs, dead skin cells, and aid in reducing acne.
  • Camel’s milk contains the fatty acid, lanolin. Lanolin helps lock in skin’s natural moisture and soothes inflammation. Best of all, lanolin doesn’t clog your pores.
  • Camel’s milk is rich in antioxidants. It has three times the amount of vitamin C than cow’s milk. That makes camel’s milk good for detoxification, stimulates collagen production for plump, youthful, soft and supple skin texture. Yes, I’ll say it, “It’s anti-aging.”
  • Camel’s milk also contains that wonderful protein, elastin, which maintains skin’s elasticity and firmness.
  • Camel’s milk has greater omega-3 fatty acids to moisturize and nourish hair follicles and strengthen nails.
  • Camel’s milk is environmentally friendly. Camels emit less greenhouse gas, methane, than cows because they don’t need large grazing areas like cows. Therefore, they contribute to a greener world.

Bottom line, camel’s milk is good in cosmetics for soft, clear, healthy skin. One caveat: camel’s milk is very expensive – to the tune of 50 times more expensive than cow’s milk. So, if you seek products containing camel’s milk, expect it to be pricier than similar products not containing camel’s milk. I guess that’s the price you pay for “white gold.”

The Unfortunate Casualty Of The World’s Love For Chocolate

Photo credit: Lisa Fotios

You take that first bite. Let it rest upon your tongue. Slowly, slowly it melts in your mouth. The rich palette of flavors opens like a colorful spring bouquet. A look of contentment radiates from your face. You savor each note until they all dissolve.

That’s what chocolate can do to your senses. But, satisfying the world’s sweet tooth comes at a high price. The cost? Ghana is losing its rainforest faster than any other country in the world.

Clearing for cocoa is the leading cause of deforestation in Ghana.

Africa produces seventy-five percent of the world’s cocoa. West Africa produces more cocoa in mass than any other region in the world.

Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire combined produce sixty percent of the world’s cocoa. As a matter of fact, four of the top five cocoa-producing nations are on the continent of Africa.

Between 2017-2018, Ghana’s rainforest loss increased twenty-eight percent. Côte d’Ivoire’s loss increased twenty-six percent. During this period, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire suffered the largest rise in deforestation than any tropical country.

The loss of African rainforests negatively impacts the ecosystem. Rainforests provide homes for animals like – orangutans, mountain gorillas, jaguars, and tigers. Trees in the rainforests are hundreds to thousands of years old and may be irreplaceable. The rainforest stores the most carbon than any other forests.

Countries and companies are trying to reduce deforestation by 2020, but they’re not on track. Here’s the kicker. These multinational companies are raking in $100 billion. Africa only reaps two percent of that industry. I’ll do the math for you. That’s only $2 billion.

In Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, these are smallholder cocoa farms. That means the farmer owns, maintains, and lives on the farm. Therefore, the person doing the heavy lifting is not getting a fair share of profits from the industry.

This rouses my ire. Some cocoa farmers have never even tasted chocolate. So these multinational companies are profiting off of a resource African farmers hardly consume. Yet the companies are not on track to reduce deforestation.

Not to mention, concerns have been raised regarding Côte d’Ivoire’s child labor infringements. It’s been reported that the children sometimes have a one hundred hour workweek, suffer physical abuse, and are not provided an education.

Now, think back to that piece of chocolate melting delicately on your tongue. Opening its rich palette of flavors like a colorful spring bouquet. Does it still taste as sweet as before? 

How Human Enjoyment Is Creating A New Generation Of Elephants

Photo credit: Tobin Rogers, Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa

“Nature’s great masterpiece, an elephant – the only harmless great thing.” ~John Donne

One of the masterpieces of elephants is their tusk. The long, curved ivory tusks give elephants their majestic appearance. Unfortunately, the beauty of their majesty makes elephants a target for poachers.

Poaching is not new. During the Mozambican Civil War (1977-1992), elephants were poached for ivory to buy weapons and food for soldiers. During that time, no one could have imagined the fate that would befall the world’s largest land animal.

Post-war, some elephants have devolved into tuskless pachyderms. According to a Duke University and Kenya Wildlife Service study, surviving elephants of the poaching period have smaller than average (10-foot-long) tusks compared to elephants captured in southern Kenya between 2005-2013.

North Luangwa, Zambia; Ruaha National Park, Tanzania; and South Africa are experiencing the same tuskless elephant phenomenon.

Although poaching is the catalyst of this occurrence, scientists believe elephants have evolved for survival. They theorize that parent elephants, which saw their families slaughtered during the war, have passed the tuskless gene to their offspring to protect them from poachers. Basically, nature removed the ‘big tusk’ gene as a survival mechanism. 

Although this might sound like the elephants outsmarted the humans and a solution to poaching, it jeopardizes an elephant’s survival. Tusks are crucial to elephants for defense, offense, digging for water when it’s dry, lifting objects, gathering food, and stripping bark from trees.

As humans, we must look at how our desire for ivory, and luxuries made from ivory, has lasting effects on elephants.

Elephant families were primarily calm. Experts have noticed aggressive behavior by female elephants towards humans and automobiles. Scientists speculate that it could be due to the lack of tusks. It may also be linked to the trauma of seeing their elephant families hunted and slaughtered.

Elephants with tusks are also considered suitable mates. If elephants continue to evolve tuskless, they will not be considered as mates. All of these factors could ultimately affect the ecosystem around them.

How Ugandans Are Saving The Environment One Banana Stem At A Time

Photo credit: Mahdis Mousavi

We’ve all heard the proverbial phrase — when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. That’s what some enterprising Ugandans are doing. Well – they’re not using lemons. They’re using banana fibers to make paper bags, but you get my analogy.

Using banana fibers to make paper bags helps Uganda address three critical issues.

Ban on Plastic Bags

In June 2018, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni banned polythene, or plastic bags. The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) estimates that 39,600 tons of polluting waste is released into the environment in Uganda. According to the 2018 United Nations Environmental Programme report, SINGLE-USE PLASTICS: A Roadmap for Sustainability, this waste ends up in dumps, landfills, and the environment.

Polythene bags, commonly known as kaveera, cause flooding, create breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and kill soil. Non-biodegradable waste takes up to 400 years to decompose. (source)

Sadly, less than nine percent of nine billion tons of plastic worldwide is recycled.

Alleviate Banana Stem Waste

Banana plants are abundant in Uganda. Bananas fruit once. After banana harvest, farmers must cut the parent stems for new, “suckers”(smaller offshoots) to grow. The banana stems are discarded and left to rot.

Once the banana stems are collected, oftentimes free of charge because they’re considered waste product to the banana farmer, the process of making banana paper begins.

The strong banana fibers are extracted from the banana stem. It’s cut, cooked, blended, turned into a pulp, put into a solution, drained on screens, then hung on racks to dry for a minimum of six hours to turn into hard paper. Once dried, the banana paper is smoothed in a roller to increase the strength of the paper. (source)

Banana bags are vegan, eco-friendly, sustainable, plant-based, cruelty-free, not easily torn, and biodegradable. Due to its uniqueness, the market is growing. (source)

Additionally, in rural areas, banana paper helps curb deforestation and poaching. It takes one year to grow banana tree paper. Conventional tree paper takes 30 years.

Help Ease Unemployment

Manufacturing banana paper helps unemployed Ugandans by creating jobs, therefore creating income. (source)

Vocational centers and independent workshops teach underprivileged people and unemployed youth how to make banana bags, jewelry, mats, vases, utensils, cloth, woven materials, books, and greeting cards for Canada and the United States.

Previously, a large portion of banana bags manufactured in Uganda was exported to Rwanda, which also has a total ban on polythene bags. Now that the banana bags are heavily used in Uganda, they can no longer export to Rwanda.

Catnip: A Sustainable, Botanical Mosquito Repellent To Protect Against Malaria

Photo credit: Pixabay

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), World Malaria Report 2018, there were 219 million malaria cases and 439,000 related deaths. Over 90 percent of cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

Children and pregnant women are most vulnerable. Notably, children under the age of five years old are nearly two-thirds of the victims.

The culprits are infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. The mosquitoes are typically busy at night, devouring up to 75 bites per night.

As with any epidemic, or some may consider malaria an endemic, preventing the disease shows better results than treating the disease.

Sleeping under insecticide-treated nets worked for a period of time.  As with all predators, the mosquitoes adapted, changed their biting habits, and built a resistance to certain insecticides.

Mosquito repellents  containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) are effective for up to 7-hours of protection, but they’re cost prohibitive to rural sub-Saharan populations.

Essential oils from plants indigenous to Kenya showed promise under trial conditions. They worked better than DEET and have the potential to stimulate the local economy.

One particular standout was essential oil of Nepeta Cataria (N. Cataria), a perennial plant widely known as catnip or catmint. The major constituent of catnip is Nepetalactone (NPL), which is found in the leaves and stem. It’s a better topical repellent than DEET. It also showed 8-hour protection against insects compared to DEET’s 7-hour protection.

According to Big Cat Rescue, when inhaled, catnip is known to make big cats like tigers, lions, leopards, lynx, jaguars, as well as small house cats act unusual. They become happy, euphoric, excited, hyper, playful, intoxicated, and sedated.

This got me thinking – are Anopheles mosquitoes crazy for catnip like cats? Once inhaled, does it have a sedative effect on the mosquitoes causing them to bite less frequently? Do they experience intoxicated drunkenness? Hmmm…I digress.

Needless to say, catnip is safer than DEET and the locals are more receptive to applying the essential oil mosquito repellent.

Growing, harvesting, and extracting the essential oil of N. Cataria plants are a viable source for Anopheles mosquito repellent. The essential oil can be used in lotions, soaps, perfumes, and indoor sprays.

One important fact, essential oil mosquito repellent used in conjunction with insecticide-treated nets reduce malaria by 80% more than just sleeping under the net.

Is Fragrance-Free Causing Me Harm?

My husband has sensitive skin. Products with questionable ingredients make their presence know after a couple of uses. The telltale sign of a cluster of tiny red pimples form on his skin.

Recently, I purchased a fragrance-free, toxic-free laundry detergent that is supposed to clean your clothes like new. I heard a lot about the product, so I decided to give it a try. After a couple of days, my husband developed a red streak of tiny pimples going down his leg. He asked if I used a new laundry detergent. I replied, “Yes, but it’s fragrance-free and non-toxic.” Usually scented detergents cause his skin to react.

That was the only change in products coming in contact with his skin. So, I resigned myself to re-wash all of his clothes in my regular unscented, non-toxic laundry detergent. Within days the red streak of tiny pimples disappeared.

I was curious how a fragrance-free, non-toxic product could cause a fragrance reaction. I had to do some sleuthing. Believe it or not, after a few clicks to a few of my favorite research-based websites, I got to the bottom of the problem. My husband was experiencing a chemical reaction.

I needed to delve a little deeper to fully understand the science behind it all. Yes, I can be a science nerd at times and will happily get lost in research for hours.

My nerdiness paid off. It boiled down to masking fragrances. They are fragrance components in fragrance-free/unscented products. Their name explains their function. They are synthetic compounds used to cover-up the smell of other chemicals in a product. Say what? They use fragrances to mask fragrances? 

My pursuit of an answer led me down a rabbit hole. I found out that masking fragrances are not required to be listed on the product label. They are considered ‘trade secrets’. Hmmm, interesting. There could be hundreds of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in a product that aren’t listed on the ingredient label.

Further research stated that the terms ‘natural’, ‘organic’, or ‘hypoallergenic’ don’t necessarily mean fragrance-free either. Fragrance-free products may also cause skin sensitivities/allergies due to fragrance ingredients as preservatives.

This left me wondering – are there any truly fragrance-free/unscented product ingredients? I venture to say, “No.” Chime in and let me know what you think.