While the world’s first chocolate-lovers lived in ancient Mesoamerica (present-day Mexico), the small West African countries of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire are today’s cocoa heavyweights, producing together about 60 percent of the global supply. Cocoa is critical to both of these countries’ economies. However, it can leave a bitter taste – in the form of deforestation, environmental degradation and such rights violations as child labor. Moreover, farmers growing the beloved bean might not always be paid fairly for their work, with the majority in both countries earning well below a living wage.
The 27-country Global Environment Facility–funded Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration Impact Program (FOLUR) supports projects in the two countries to build more resilient landscapes and sustainable food systems, through environmentally-friendly cocoa. Improving social benefits and profits, from the field through to the consumer, leads to healthy and sustainable commodity value chains.
At the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF)’s Africa 2022 digital conference on 15 September, FOLUR convened a plenary of ministerial representatives, private sector actors and local leaders to explore lessons learned from work on cocoa value chains – and future prospects for improving Africa’s commodity chains more broadly.
A key theme of the discussions was the need to boost incomes and garner funding support for smallholders to improve sustainability. “We are very aware of what could happen if we don’t protect our environment – no more chocolate! – but we need the private sector to support us financially to do so,” said Traoré Awa Bamba, the Director General of Coopérative Agricole de Yakassé Attobrou (CAYAT), an Ivorian cocoa and coffee farming cooperative with more than 3,000 members.
Traceability is critical to ensuring that purchases support operations advancing this cause: “I would like to invite everybody who buys cocoa to make sure it’s traceable,” said Bamba. To that end, Ywe Franken, a farming accelerator at leading ethical chocolate brand Tony’s Chocolonely, described some of his company’s work in this arena, including creating fully digitized traceability systems using its own software called ‘Beantracker.’ Each farm that provides beans to Tony’s is GPS-mapped, and the beans travel through a segregated supply chain, ensuring both operational and social traceability. “We can follow the entire production process of the cocoa,” said Franken. “I think this is a success story that could very well be applied elsewhere.”
And that’s exactly what the company is facilitating through its ‘Tony’s Open Chain’ initiative, whereby food brands – recently and notably Ben & Jerry’s – can sign up to use the Beantracker system and comply with Tony’s Five Sourcing Principles, and then share the initiative’s symbol on their packaging to make consumers aware of their efforts.
Betty Annan, country manager for the World Cocoa Foundation in Ghana, shared ideas on the kinds of investments that buyer companies can make – as well as paying producers higher prices – to boost the environmental and ethical credentials of the supply chains in which they take part. She gave examples of existing interventions that cocoa companies have invested in, such as those addressing child labor, health, gender issues, education, deforestation prevention, income diversification and more.
She also highlighted the importance of partnerships between companies – and with governments and civil society organizations – to make tangible impact. “What we have realized is that in as much as individual companies are making their own direct investments in supply chains, it has become critical to have collective investment in certain ‘hotspot’ landscapes, because it requires a lot of money and a lot of financial investment,” she said. “So one single company cannot take full responsibility for that.”
Robert Yapo Assamoi, Technical Advisor to the Ivorian Ministry of Forests, shared some of the actions his government is taking to contribute to the cocoa sector’s environmental challenges. “We’re working to restore the forest, protect the soil and preserve the ecosystem as a whole,” he said. “We plan to favor social inclusion and social engagement, so that local communities can be involved in preserving and restoring our ecosystems.”
Léonie Bonnehin-Verrier, the head of cocoa agroforestry for Olam Food Ingredients in West Africa, then honed in on her company’s experience investing in income diversification through promoting cocoa agroforestry systems, which include timber trees and shade-tolerant ground crops such as ginger. “This planting process also helps to remove greenhouse gases and stops the loss of biodiversity from the landscape,” she said.
To halt agricultural expansion into forested areas, the Ghanaian government is working to enable intensification on existing croplands, said Isaac Charles Apwa Jr., the director and head of the country’s Natural Resources Department and Environmental Protection Agency.
But to grow more cocoa on less land, better prices and further field-level training and support are needed – efforts that benefit hands-on efforts in the field. “You need to be able to use fertilizer, work with crop protection where needed, and also a lot of labor is needed,” Franken said. Pruning, for instance, is a big issue in cocoa, as many farmers cannot do that themselves because they lack the knowledge, labor, or mechanized equipment. “So by paying a higher price and ensuring that there are labor brigades set up that are trained and have the equipment, you can really advance that agricultural intensification by making sure money and organization is available for the individual coaching of each farmer.” Intensification techniques reduce the risk of encroaching on surrounding forest ecosystems, conserving biodiversity and curtailing greenhouse gas emissions.
While export markets are vital for generating revenues, we should not lose sight of local benefits, said Peter Minang, a principal scientist at World Agroforestry (ICRAF). “We need to diversify value addition, so that we create more jobs and enhance revenues for governments – and thereby promote investment and reinvestment,” he said. “Financial and non-financial incentives are extremely important. They are perhaps the most crucial things that we need to do.”
Key themes that emerged throughout the plenary were the importance of paying farmers higher wages; the need for transparency in supply chains, which is being enabled through new technology and initiatives; and the value of building capacity in intensification and agroforestry techniques, in order to boost productivity and resilience in cocoa systems for generations to come.