Africa grows the lion's share of cocoa used by the world's confectioners and food firms, with Ghana contributing 19 per cent of cocoa to the global market. Ivory Coast, the biggest global supplier, contributes 38 per cent of this much sought-after soft commodity to the marketplace.
Most of the cocoa cultivated in Africa is exported to the major centres of cocoa consumption in Europe and North America, with the Netherlands and the US maintaining their positions as the world's two leading cocoa processing countries.
"This week the president of Ghana, the Ashanti king and other government officials from across Africa will join scientists, farmer representatives and other experts in Ghana to draft a sustainable cocoa farming plan," say the symposium organisers.
Sponsored by chocolate behemoth Mars, a key aim of the symposium is to lay the groundwork for a sustainable cocoa farming plan for Africa and to move towards a global understanding as to how this may be achieved.
Representatives from Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Liberia and Togo will rub shoulders with scientists and World Bank officials, as well as representatives from the World Cocoa Foundation, the World Agroforestry Centre and a multitude of other organisations. Topics on the table range from multifunctional agriculture, genetics and germplasm, to pest and disease, and science and leadership.
In terms of policies and governance, speeches will include tackling health and nutrition for farmers and families, child labour, national policy frameworks, farmer organisations, incentives and subsidies, as well as co-financing cocoa system health and productivity with carbon.
Confectioners move into sustainability
This latest symposium follows steps taken by certain cocoa stakeholders to establish structures that will move the word sustainability off the page and into real life.
In February this year Mars and Nestlé joined a sustainable cocoa programme which aims to establish a traceability system for Ivory Coast farmers. The Good Inside Cocoa Programme, established by the Dutch organisation Utz Certified, seeks to eliminate environmental and humanitarian problems.
Utz Certified project manager Daan de Vries told ConfectioneryNews.com that as well as addressing concerns such as child labour, the programme "will consider issues such as market supply, health and safety – all the factors necessary for cocoa trading".
Utz Certified hopes that the first certified cocoa growers will begin production by the end of the year, with Good Inside cocoa on the market by the end of 2009.
Earlier this year Belgian cocoa maker Barry Callebaut acquired a 49 per cent stake in Biolands of Tanzania, Africa's largest exporter of certified organic cocoa. The investment highlighted the firm's drive into sustainable and ethical farming while improving traceability. The programme will enable Barry Callebaut to enter into involvement with other countries.
"As a company, we are committed to contributing to a sustainable cocoa industry and a sustainable cocoa supply chain," Gaby Tschofen, vice-president for corporate communications at Barry Callebaut, recently told ConfectioneryNews.com.
"This includes working with cocoa farmers in order to empower them. We will test the models in the field to find out how we can improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers and their families in the most effective way."
Roundtable initiative for global sustainability
The first Roundtable on a Sustainable Cocoa Economy (RSCE) meeting took place in Accra, Ghana last year, bringing together over 200 participants from 25 countries, including representatives from European confectionery firms.
The thrust behind the roundtable is to create "an initiative for dialogue and sustainability amongst all stakeholders in the cocoa economy: cocoa farmers and cooperatives, traders, exporters, processors, chocolate manufacturers, wholesalers, governmental and non-governmental organisations, financial institutions as well as donor agencies."
A working group has since been established to plan ahead for the next roundtable meeting in March 2009. Subject areas under the spotlight will include: best known practices in the cocoa supply chain, a study on traceability and tracking that presents different forms of verification for certain types of produce, sustainability initiatives and the challenge of compliance, social issues, and a draft outline of principles for a sustainable cocoa economy.