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The Cocoa Industry's Road to Sustainability

By 3p Contributor

By Taco Terheijden

Although the growth in demand for cocoa beans has slowed to around 0.5 percent to 1 percent a year from 2-3 percent in 2014, it’s a fact that the number of affluent middle-class consumers who enjoy cocoa and chocolate products and can afford to buy it, is increasing. There is also greater demand for ethically-sourced cocoa and chocolate products. Despite this, the cocoa-growing sector has still struggled to increase supply to meet demand.

This is due to several factors. Approximately 95 percent of the world’s cocoa comes from smallholder cocoa farmers cultivating less than three hectares of land. Smallholder farmers can struggle to access and adopt the skills and practices that are essential to running a profitable, sustainable farm. At the same time, there’s skepticism among the next generation about the ability of cocoa farming, and farming in general, to deliver viable ways to achieve a living wage that supports their families.

At Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate, our sustainability strategy is integral to our business model; it is designed to improve the lives of cocoa farmers and their communities and, in doing so, secure a long-term and sustainable supply of cocoa. All of our programs in cocoa origin countries are delivered through the Cargill Cocoa Promise, which was established in 2012.

The Cargill Cocoa Promise covers three key intervention areas – farmer training, farm development and community support. Through it, we not only aim to address these social and community challenges for cocoa farmers and their communities and deliver a sustainable supply of cocoa, but also to accelerate progress toward a transparent global supply chain.

Our Theory of Change, Results Framework and Monitoring and Evaluation System all work together to help us capture the results of our efforts, and ensure we continue to learn and evolve our Cargill Cocoa Promise. This approach is vital to ensure that we deliver tangible improvements to farmer and community livelihoods, and to the success of our business.

We see growing evidence that empowered farmer organizations are key to a thriving, sustainable cocoa industry. They are professional, local groups that can help their members to farm more profitably, productively and sustainably. We find that when smallholders participate in well-run farmer organizations, they have a chance to share knowledge, access finance and develop long-term commercial relationships. This allows them to grow their scale and join ‘a winning team.'

Cargill believes professional farmers’ organizations are fundamental to improving farmer and community livelihoods. We now support 181 farmer organizations in West Africa through the Cargill Cocoa Promise. Developing and professionalizing them is a key priority and, in line with this, we have developed the Cargill Coop Academy.

Launched in 2013 in Côte d’Ivoire, the Coop Academy teaches business skills to farmer organization executives. Participants undergo 28 days of intensive classroom learning, followed by a full year of personalized on-the-ground coaching. It was developed in partnership with the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), TechnoServe and the International Finance Corp. (IFC).

Training and coaching the executives and farmers who work for cooperatives is about generating tangible output, building capabilities and setting up empowered farmer organizations for success. And with all actors fulfilling their responsibilities and role -- governments, NGOs, industry, cooperatives and farmers -- there is a real opportunity to redesign sustainable supply chains according to the local requirements and needs.

To date in Côte d’Ivoire, around 320 executives from 80 organizations have taken part in our Coop Academy. As a result of its success, we are working with Conseil Caffé Cocoa to extend the program across cocoa-growing regions. In March 2016, we launched in Cameroon. Over the next few years, we aim to reach almost 900 participants from 227 farmer organizations, in turn reaching over 50,000 farmers.

We work closely with farmers in cocoa-growing regions to improve their resilience in the face of some of the more negative impacts, such as extreme weather or variability in rainfall or temperature. This means they can adapt either through changing their agricultural practices or adopting additional sources of income to sustain their livelihoods.

One of our activities together with CARE in Ghana is to continue to train farmers on good agricultural practices, such as the importance of shade trees. We are also creating access to a network of nurseries to grow and offer better quality, more resilient seedlings and young cocoa trees to farmers. Our cocoa sustainability team is working within a USAID-funded project on Climate Smart Agriculture for Cocoa. We are contributing information from our Monitoring and Evaluation System and working together with research institutions, such as CGIAR’s International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) to better understand the local impacts. A better understanding will help inform the design of new programs, and enable us to adapt our training materials to equip farmers with the knowledge and techniques they need to deal with a changing environment.

Ultimately, we are committed to a long-term approach to sustainability; cocoa sustainability will remain at the heart of our global cocoa and chocolate business. We know that the road is never linear and that there are new challenges ahead. We will know when we have achieved success when farmers become self-supporting without the need for our intervention. We also firmly believe that everybody has a role to play, which is underlined by the fact we are working with valued partners to ensure that farmers will adapt and benefit from the support they receive through the Cargill Cocoa Promise.

To learn more about the challenges to a thriving cocoa industry, check out this short film or the new Cargill Cocoa Promise report.

Images courtesy of Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate 

Taco Terheijden is Director of Cocoa Sustainability at Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate. He spent six years in cocoa trading with Cargill, before heading the company’s commercial program in Ghana from 2007-2010. Since then, he has led the company’s cocoa sustainability strategy, including the creation of the Cargill Cocoa Promise.

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