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The Cocoa Promise: one company's vision for sustainable chocolate

January 14, 2016

Chocolate is one of life’s pleasures, and demand for this popular food is growing steadily thanks to a strong appetite for it among the rising middle class in China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies, according to the World Cocoa Foundation.

Annual net production has increased to about 4.2 million metric tons, from about 3.5 million metric tons a decade ago and 2.5 million in the early 1990s, according to the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO). Some 72 percent of production takes place in West Africa, 18 percent in Latin America, and 10 percent in Asia and Oceania, the ICCO said.

This should be good news for the industry, including more than 6 million smallholder farmers in developing nations that grow about 90 percent of the world’s cocoa. Instead, a lack of infrastructure, training and access to capital in these countries means many small-scale farmers require additional support to boost their incomes, improve yields and engage in more sustainable practices.

A number of companies and organizations are stepping up to help secure a more sustainable future for the cocoa and chocolate industry. Chocolate makers, cocoa processors and other industry figures are working directly with cocoa farmers and non-government organizations to help improve farmers’ livelihoods and boost productivity.

The Cargill Cocoa Promise

In 2012, food and agriculture company Cargill set out to support farmers in key cocoa growing countries—Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Indonesia, Cameroon and Brazil—which together account for about 80 percent of global cocoa production. The company established the Cargill Cocoa Promise to align its efforts in origin countries to improve the livelihoods of farmers and their living standards through training, community support and farm development programs and, in doing so, secure the long-term supply of cocoa.

Cargill is helping train more than 115,000 farmers in effective agricultural practices and has established more than 2,500 Farmer Field Schools around the world, according to the 2014 global Cargill Cocoa Promise report. Empowered farmer cooperatives play a critical role in supporting farmers and strengthening communities, and Cargill is working with more than 80,000 farmers in 100 partner cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire to provide essential support and training. This support is enabling farmer cooperatives and others to become certified as sustainable growers and receive premium payments for their cocoa. Under the Cargill Cocoa Promise, over $44 million of premium payments have been distributed to farmer organizations, then reinvested to support farmer members and the local community.

Cargill is also working with various organizations to supply farmers with financing and equipment needed to build their operations.

In September 2015, the company announced a project with the International Finance Corporation that provides access to affordable loans to farmer cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire. The loans, financed by the Ivorian bank SIB, are for graduates of the Cargill Coop Academy, a first-of-its-kind program that was set up in 2013 to provide cocoa cooperatives with key business and management skills. The money will help farmers lease new trucks to more easily transport their cocoa beans to markets, a key factor in helping them grow and sustain their businesses.

Supporting farmers and strengthening communities

In November 2015, Cargill announced it had teamed up with food and beverage manufacturer Mondel─ôz International to help cocoa farmers in Indonesia adopt sustainable practices. It was the latest step in promoting better farming practices to help improve the productivity and profitability of farms.

The program provides training to 6,000 farmers, with a goal of advancing their methods, boosting productivity and reducing their carbon footprint. There’s also a nutritional training component, alongside the creation of vegetable gardens to encourage food diversification and provide extra income.

Cargill is also working with governments and NGOs to better understand local issues and to strengthen communities by improving their access to education, health and nutrition. Among its initiatives in this area, the company has developed a partnership with CARE International that has provided nearly 34,000 children in cocoa-growing communities with better access to education.

Cargill has further collaborated with IDH, The Sustainable Trade Initiative, in Côte d’Ivoire to make sure programs are locally relevant and truly effective.

“The power of Cargill is that sustainable cocoa is intrinsic to its business model—the company knows that it needs to improve farmers’ livelihoods in order to meet the increased demand for cocoa products,” said IDH executive director Joost Oorthuizen.

A good recipe for industry and consumers

Cargill recognizes wholesale customers—and consumers—have become much more concerned about their food sources and sustainable practices across the entire supply chain. Many of the world’s largest chocolate manufacturers, retailers and brands have committed to 100 percent sustainable sourcing of certified cocoa by 2020.

As it works toward delivering meaningful, lasting change for farmers and their communities, and toward a sustainable cocoa supply chain, Cargill has put in place a monitoring and evaluation system to assess the impact of its activities. This will allow it to transparently report progress against key indicators as well as to continuously improve the effectiveness of its activities on the ground.

“There needs to be more transparency around the challenges that smallholder farmers face, and more consistent and open measurement of the impact of activities on the ground,” said Taco Terheijden, director of cocoa sustainability at Cargill. “Implementing this approach is fundamental to channeling efforts on those actions that can make the most difference to improving the livelihoods of farmers, communities and the future of cocoa.”