Ingredients Insight: On the ground, how enthusiastic are the communities you work with? If there are barriers, what have they been and how have you broken them down?

Daan de Vries: Farmers want a better life for themselves and their children. They are enthusiastic to better manage their farm and market their products, especially as they start to see financial and other rewards. There are, however, other barriers to a vibrant cocoa farming sector, such as political instability or the lack of infrastructure in some regions. Other challenges are the inclusion of more unorganised and often illiterate smallholders in our programme or the detection of cases of local corruption, regarding, for example, child labour. That’s why we make alliances with other organisations on the ground in order to organise smallholders. And we also enhance our assurance system to prevent and detect cases of corruption.

Taco Terheijden: Cocoa farmers and communities have continued to be very engaged and ready to embrace the knowledge, training and support available to improve sustainable farming practices, and to increase their yields and incomes. We have seen a growth in the number of farmer cooperatives/organisations and the rise in members among local farmers. Additionally, communities are actively engaging in projects to support developments in their locality. For example, last year, we launched a first-of-its-kind programme with CARE and the Conseil du Café-Cacao in Ivory Coast to enable 14 cocoa farmer cooperatives to invest in improving the availability of healthcare and increase the number of children with access to good-quality educational facilities across their local communities.

While we are sharing and encouraging best farming practices and production, we recognise that the needs in each origin market can be different; while there may be commonalities, the differences are also important, so it is essential we listen and work with the farmer organisations to develop the best approach and to ensure the best outcome for them.

Given that much cocoa is produced by small, family-run businesses, does this make the challenge of promoting a fair and sustainable future more difficult?

DdV: Small family farms grow much of the world’s food, and improvement of their position is key to creating a healthy food system. Family farming can be a conducive environment for improvement as people are personally invested. However, the low income and educational levels are barriers to adopt new approaches and invest in the future. Therefore, responsibility for improvement has to be shared along the supply chain, and governments need to create enabling policy and services.

TT: Across the world, about 90% of cocoa is grown by an estimated six to seven million independent, small, family farms, each with about 3ha on average. It is why we believe strengthening farmer organisations is critical. Working closely with farmer organisations enables us to connect with thousands of smallholders, which is almost impossible to do on an individual basis. Farmer cooperatives/organisations provide a hub where farmers can connect with each other, build up their networks and share knowledge.

They also play a critical role in improving access to markets and infrastructure, as well as playing a central role in their local communities to support improvements to education, healthcare and local facilities.

"We need a shared commitment including all the actors in the supply chain, the biggest players in the industry and the commitment of governments." 

Fully recognising their importance, we established the Coop Academy in Ivory Coast in 2013. This is a unique programme that provides cooperative leaders with the knowledge to improve day-to-day running and, crucially, develop the managerial and financial skills to support successful growth. Building on its initial success, we are now partnering with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to invest $2.5 million to strengthen and expand the programme to reach over 300 participants across 80 cooperatives.

What should the rest of the world be doing to ensure the farming of cocoa is as sustainable?

DdV: Firstly, each stakeholder should consider for itself what capabilities and possibilities it has to contribute. How can it complement what is already being done, rather than copying and duplicating efforts? Secondly, engage with others: the solution is in the dialogue. The interaction and acceptance between different stakeholders has increased strongly in the cocoa sector in the past seven years, and this is a critical success factor.

TT: A continued and greater focus on the outcomes of activities is needed so that we can continue to scale and adapt programmes that deliver benefits to farmers, communities and to improvements to the sustainability of the cocoa supply chain. In order to continue to scale up activities, reach more farmers, benefit more communities and meet the growing demand for sustainable products, everyone across the supply chain – suppliers, customers, NGOs, international institutions and government bodies – has a role to play.

While much of the focus and activity has been on West Africa – which produces over 70% of the world’s cocoa – programmes are under way in other cocoa-growing regions, such as Brazil and Indonesia, to increase productivity and improve livelihoods.

The majority of cocoa production is in parts of the world that are politically or economically troubled. Does this hinder sustainability initiatives and how have you tried to address these issues?

DdV: Sustainable certification programmes like UTZ are not going to resolve the troubled situations many of the origin countries are in; that’s why we need a shared commitment including all the actors in the supply chain, the biggest players in the industry and the commitment of governments. Where there are acute nationwide issues, like the civil war in Ivory Coast in 2011 and the Ebola outbreaks, we try to find temporary solutions, keeping the interest of the certified farmers first.

TT: Since Cargill began operating in Ivory Coast, the country has experienced civil conflicts that have created huge challenges for daily life and business operations, including progress on cocoa sustainability. While these periods may have temporarily slowed progress, we have remained committed to our presence in the country and our overall ambition of a sustainable global cocoa supply chain.

Demand for cocoa is growingat an exceptional rate. Does this put the good work towards sustainability carried out so far at risk?

DdV: We do not believe that this puts the work done at risk. On the contrary, we promote better productivity and yield of cocoa farms, so if this is done at a large scale, growing demand will help to keep prices stable and cocoa competitive compared with other crops.

TT: Supporting a sustainable cocoa sector is central to continuing to meet the rising demand for cocoa and chocolate, and to meet consumers’ expectations about where their cocoa products come from and how they are produced. It is critical to enable cocoa farmers to become more successful, more productive and to adopt more sustainable farming practices. Sector-wide initiatives, such as the World Cocoa Foundation’s CocoaAction strategy, are enabling industry collaboration and partnerships with origin governments to support coordinated efforts to continue to scale up activities. We’re confident we’re heading in the right direction.