For the Love of Chocolate: Rainforest Alliance’s Sustainable Cocoa Program

As a nod to Valentine’s and the associated obsession with chocolate, Rainforest Alliance hosted a webinar on February 13, 2012: “Greening the Cocoa Industry.”

Eric Servat, Senior Manager of the Rainforest Alliance cocoa program, described current developments in the cocoa industry and the Alliance’s efforts to expand sustainable cocoa production.

The cocoa industry is large, growing and complex. Europe and the U.S. have historically been the biggest consumer markets, but growing demand in the Asia – Pacific region is putting pressure on the market supply. Global Industry Analysts (GIA) predicts that the global cocoa market will reach 5.3 million tons by 2015.

West Africa is the greatest producer of cocoa, accounting for over 70 percent of the world’s production. Cocoa production provides a livelihood for over 5 million farmers, 90 percent of whom are smallholders. The producers struggle with an array of social and environmental challenges – including child trafficking, deforestation, health, safety, water and fertilizer pressures. As market demands outstrip supply, farmers often look to enlarging their farm size, rather than optimizing the producing capability of the land they already own.

The Rainforest Alliance launched its sustainable cocoa program in 1997 in Ecuador, and has since expanded into many of the prime farming areas in Africa.

“We have seen a huge increase in our work, identifying partners in each country and helping farmers achieve more sustainable yields, “Eric Servat explained. “We are now working with 60,000 farmers and we are supporting 100,000 tons of certified sustainable cocoa per year.”

The social benefits are highly tied to the environmental benefits.

“A study in Cote d’Ivoire (2010) concluded that on the groups surveyed, Rainforest Alliance Certified farms displayed a 20 percent higher rate of regular school attendance for children than the controls. 32 percent more of the treatment group was found to have one or more pieces of protective equipment than their control group farms, and 4 percent less farms than their control group suffered injuries.”

These are very real impacts on the farmer’s families and quality of life.

An important challenge has been getting industry itself to invest. Two of the largest chocolate companies – Kraft and Mars – have been working with the Alliance for over five years. As of today, Hershey, Nespresso, and Unilever are also involved.

“Their involvement sends a clear message to the industry,” states Eric, “these large commitments are what will drive real scale and volume of our effort.”

Looking ahead, the greatest challenge is in keeping the farmers sustainable. The Alliance is investing in impact and evaluation studies and auditors that will help document the benefits of these sustainable approaches to the farmers and the entire industry.

“We need to be sure the farmers continue to see the real benefits of doing things sustainably so that they continue – and help bring other farmers on board.”

image: Eszter Hargittai via Flickr cc (some rights reserved)

Heather King

Heather is President of kingconsulting, a leading strategy consulting practice focused on sustainability, clean tech, and green tech. Heather has over 30 years experience working with pioneering technology, consumer, B2B companies and international non-profits - including Apple, Microsoft, Disney. Oracle, Ogilvy, Waste Management, Stanford Center for Social Innovation, Day in the Life, and multiple start ups. She serves on the boards of Trust for Conservation Innovation, a fiscal sponsor and incubator for over two dozen environmental non-profits, and the Presidio Graduate School, the leading MBA/MPA program focused on sustainability.