Cocoa-based chocolates are hot favorites as gifting options – be it on birthdays, anniversaries, or even on Valentine’s Day. Discovered by the Spanish when they invaded native cultures, cocoa was kept a secret for a hundred years. But it soon landed in Europe through trade routes, where, at that time, it was consumed only by the elite. Many products came to be made from cocoa – from chocolate truffles to soufflés, hot chocolate to pastries. But with the onset of the industrial revolution, cocoa lost its exclusivity – and its consumption spread all over the world. Today, over 4.5 million tons of cocoa beans are consumed annually around the globe. Yet, it’s the smallholder farmer who cultivates the crop; and the hotbed of cocoa production in West Africa and a few other equatorial countries.
One of the major issues that cocoa farmers face is price variation. Many factors impact the price, such as fluctuating demand and supply, short-term weather events and long-term climate change. In the face of these variations, it is important to safeguard the interests of farmers and give them an attractive income for generations to come. One way to do this is by farmer aggregation and diversification of income. To do this, they need to access basic resources they need such as quality education for children, healthcare services and good nutrition.
Can a thriving sector sustain if it is taking a toll on the environment and hampering the producers’ health and well-being? If the future of cocoa is to be secured and to ensure that it is available for generations to come, cocoa farming needs to become sustainable, and production methods more ethical. The area of West Africa faces the industry’s most vital sustainability challenges, where cocoa farming has been identified as one of the major causes of deforestation which has led to serious soil degradation, water insecurity and crop failures in the region. To address and resolve these issues, the food and drink industry and the farming companies are working together to bring sustainability to the cocoa value chain.
Fortunately, we’ve reached a time when both businesses and consumers are more than ever before about the standards behind the things they buy.
When consumers buy certified products, they want to know if their investment is delivering the benefits that are promised. And this is becoming possible because advances in technology are creating new opportunities for transparency and traceability in the cocoa supply chain.
Again, one of the significant ways of making cocoa sustainable is by improving the lives of farmers and their communities by improving farm productivity. By undertaking activities that improve farmer livelihoods, farmers become equipped to manage professional and responsible farms. Today, more than 30 of the world’s major cocoa-producing companies have come together in the effort to sustainable cocoa.
Even though the 5-6 million smallholder farmers that produce most of the world’s cocoa are the ones in the front line of deforestation, the change in policy needs to come from companies, governments are service providing NGOs. This is because these farmers have limited financial means and technical capacity to make a change themselves. In this direction,
the World Cocoa Foundation has teamed up with over 100 companies around the world and set up an initiative called Cocoa Action, which envisages a thriving cocoa sector, where farmers prosper, cocoa-growing communities are empowered, and the environment is conserved.
There are many other such sustainability initiatives with a vision of their own. For example, the Cargill Cocoa Promise believes that poverty reduction and women’s empowerment are crucial to strengthening communities and eliminating child labour. They do this by helping consumers around the world choose sustainable cocoa and chocolate products with confidence. Through this initiative, the proportion of sustainable cocoa procured is increasing year by year.
Another initiative called Cocoa & Forests Initiative brings together the governments of Ivory Coast and Ghana and 33 leading cocoa and chocolate companies who have set up the Cocoa and Forests Initiative to end deforestation and restore forest areas. In Colombia, the largest local cocoa and chocolate companies came together to sign the Cocoa, Forest & Peace Initiative to do away with cocoa-related deforestation. Another is the Cocoa Livelihoods Program, which is working to increase farm productivity of cocoa and food crops of smallholder, cocoa-growing households in West and Central Africa.
There are also companies which are communicating their intentions in a creative way. For example, one chocolate company focuses on the daily lives of 100,000 women the company is aiming to empower through the initiative. Likewise, Hershey’s Cocoa for Good website uses the statement “cocoa farmers and their families are able to live healthy, prosperous lives”. These companies use the images of their farmers in their communications.
Technology products and services are now available to support cocoa sustainability.
One of the most important technologies that support sustainability is traceability. From cocoa farm to chocolate bar, traceability is a method of tracking products backward and forwards through the supply chain.
It helps provide information to customers about beans of many different origins, taste and colour profiles. A traceability system becomes successful when all participants in the chain are involved and committed, including smallholder farmers. And through such traceability system, a consumer or any stakeholder will be able to learn all they need to know about the origin of that particular cocoa and chocolate product.
All of these cases point to the need for investment in technology, which is critical to managing the flow of complex data and to develop systems that can track beans to create products of consistent quality. Opportunities offered by GPS mapping, digital data collection, and mobile money applications also bring in greater transparency in how cocoa is grown and sourced from farmers, as utilized by the Cargill Cocoa Promise. The Cargill Cocoa Promise utilizes SourceTrace’s platform for monitoring and evaluation for its sustainability programs and farmer training, as well as to centralize all data in a single repository.