Sako Warren, executive secretary of the merged entity, and former secretary general of the ICCFO, told ConfectioneryNews: "We are now working under a single platform under the name World Cocoa Farmers Organization (WCFO)."
The agreement brings together 750,000 cocoa farmer members.
Calls for industry support
"We are able to have a unified voice,” said Warren. "It’s impossible to realize a sustainable cocoa value chain without having the smallholders on board.
WCFO will be headquartered and registered in the Netherlands and will have a regional office in Accra, Ghana. The ICCFO and WCFO have agreed to have an interim board for the merged entity for one year and have elected current WCFO head Abraham Adusei as president, and Sako Warren as executive secretary. The new body will hold an election during the first year to elect the permanent board for the next four years. The two groups have spent two years trying to find common ground.
"It's important that the industry support this effort so we are able to reach smallholders,” he continued.
Smallholder cocoa farmers produce around 95% of the world's cocoa, according to the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO).
They are typically aging farmers working with aging tree stocks that are vulnerable to pests and diseases. Most have one to three hectare farms with annual yields of around 500 kg per hectare, leaving many in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1.90 a day.
"There is no cocoa value chain without the farmers. It is time for the cocoa industry to realize that they can't keep on working without the farmers' involvement,” said Warren.
Grouping disorganized farmers
The merged farmer body – WCFO - is running a program to recruit and group 1.5m individual smallholder farmers in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Cameroon.
"The main reason for doing this is to help the farmers come out of poverty," said Warren, by enabling access to training and an improved route to market.
The majority of cocoa – around 85% according to some estimates – is produced by farmers that are not part of an organized group or cooperative. They are often not reached by sustainability initiatives.
"They produce and we consume, but we do not know them,” said Warren. “It's very important for the industry at large to get these farmers on board so we can ensure sustainability and traceability.
Warren welcomed Barry Callebaut's new sustainability strategy ‘Forever Chocolate’ that aims to bring 500,000 cocoa farmers out of extreme poverty by 2025. "I think it's a good plan...but make no mistake, we've been here before and we've heard these things before. Everybody knows how difficult it is to reach 500,000 farmers,” he said. Warren urged Barry Callebaut and the industry to work with the WCFO to help group farmers to make the 2025 goal achievable.
“The consumers want to know more about where what they consume comes from....We can only have traceability if we're aware of the people who produce."
He added: "We do not create coops, but what we do with this project is to bring the individuals into groups from which they can decide if they want to join one of the existing cooperatives in their country."
The third man
WCFO remains in talks with a third cocoa producers’ organization, Abidjan headquartered group the World Cocoa Producers Organization (WCPO).
Three cocoa producer organizations emerged after the 2nd World Cocoa Conference in 2014 – the ICCFO, the WCFO and the WCPO.
The ICCO – whose members are cocoa producing and consuming governments – last year urged the three bodies to come together.
"We are still in discussion [with the WCPO]," said Warren. "We have reached out to them to tell them 'join us' and let's move on."
Background reading....One for all: Cocoa sector can only be sustainable with strong and unified farmer voice