Cargill and a number of other big names in cocoa and chocolate, including Mars, Nestle and Dutch retailer Ahold, teamed up over a certification scheme that would make sustainably sourced products credible to the end consumer.
UTZ was chosen as the certifier, and this month Cargill has announced the certification of the first two cooperatives: Co-operative Agricule de Fiédifoué and Coopaga.
The certifications, awarded on an annual basis, come at the end of an eight month programme that has involved training 1,590 farmers in responsible and sustainable agriculture practices.
Harold Poelma, managing director of cocoa at Cargill Cocoa and Chocolate, told FoodNavigator.com that other cooperatives are nearing the end of the certification programme, and others will complete in 2010.
Cargill, a founder member of the cocoa programme together with the NGO Solidaridad, has sourced cocoa from the Ivory Coast for the past decade.
It instigated a project to shorten the fragmented supply chain and have closer contact with farmers so it could help with financing and farming practices that improve quality, and give them market access and better prices.
Poelma said that the Ivory Coast has been the focus of such activity since it is the source of 40 per cent of the world’s cocoa, and has been hit by stagnating growth and deteriorating quality – negative trends that needed to be remedied.
Cargill has received increasing numbers of requests from customers for clarity in the supply chain, as the consumer movement for sustainable and fair trade type products gains momentum.
Poelma said that the certification is “adding on to what we are doing already”. He described the certification as fair trade-like, sitting alongside other schemes like Fairtrade and the Rainforest Alliance.
“Labels for sustainability are all considered to be fair trade, and to watch over the element of sustainability”, he said, but added that they have a slightly different focus. UTZ is focused more on the strength of the farmer.
The UTZ cocoa programme is managed by a steering committee made up of industry players and NGOs, including Solidaridad and Oxfam, which has also developed the code of conduct.
A company, together with NGOs, will provide funding for a cooperative, and pay a premium on sustainably produced cocoa. But the cooperatives can supply to who they want.
“It’s a free market, but business loyalty holds true. The price in Ivory Coast is transparent and a supplier will remind you if you are not competitive.”
Poelma emphasised the importance of sustainable cocoa being an industry-wide movement. “Not about niche market, but getting the whole sector up to standard.”
More companies are expected to join up, but it will take some time for cooperative certification to be achieved.
“Efforts like this take a bit of time. People need to understand that the effort takes investment,” Poela said.
“The focus is on investment, not certification. That is real sustainability.”