‘The farmer is a businessman and we need to approach him as such’ - GrowCocoa sustainability director

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cocoa farmers Agriculture Business

Business knowledge for cocoa farmers key to a sustainable cocoa supply, says GrowCocoa
Business knowledge for cocoa farmers key to a sustainable cocoa supply, says GrowCocoa
Business skills are as important to cocoa farmers as material addressed in field schools, says the program director of Olam and Blommer Chocolate’s independently-run joint venture project Grow Cocoa.

Speaking to ConfectioneryNews, Kevin Wilkins said: “The principle of farming is business. The farmer is a businessman and we need to approach him as such.”

He said that farmers need to see the value in implementing practices they are taught in field schools such as pest control, rational use of phytosanitary products, child-free labor and gender equality.

Crash course in business

"We've seen a shift and developed really positive traction with the farmer business school. The pairing of field schools and business school approach is ideal,"​ said Wilkins.

Before GrowCocoa became a separate entity in 2012, Olam and Blommer had been running sustainability initiatives together since 2004. GrowCocoa now continues to deliver holistic programs with a renewed focus on lessons in business.

growcocoa origins map
GrowCocoa delivers sustainablity programs in Indonesia and the Ivory Coast

Its farmer business schools teach the economics of food and cash crops, savings and credit options as well as the financial benefits of quality cocoa and farmer-based organization membership.

The business course is intended to help the farmers understand their farm and anticipate potential yields for the coming year.  It also teaches basic nutrition and farm management for food and a balanced diet.

Exploring new origins: Ecuador

GrowCocoa​ is an independently run joint venture by Olam and Blommer Chocolate with offices in Washington. The JV became in July 2012, delivering sustainability programs in the Ivory Coast and Indonesia.

“We are exploring new origins and Latin America is certainly on the list,” ​said Wilkins.

He added that Ecuador was a strong possibility since Blommer already had a strong operation in the country.

Industry positive on cocoa sustainability

Kevin Wilkins
GrowCocoa program director Kevin Wilkins is a former US Marine who has previously worked at the White House, the USTDA and the Peace Corps

GrowCocoa presented its first impact report at the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) Conference in the Dominican Republic last week. 

Asked for the industry mood on cocoa sustainability, Wilkins said: “Things are very positive. There’s a lot of movement on different fronts.”

He said that WCF working with different actors from within the industry and at governmental level, while many chocolate companies have taken their own initiatives to avoid a significant cocoa deficit by 2020.

Companies such as Hershey and Mars have committed to 100% certified cocoa by 2020. “The goals are lofty and to define sustainability is difficult to do,”​ said Wilkins. “Certification alone is not sustainability. It’s not the be all and end all for sustainability.”

He said that cocoa sustainability programs needed to include social investment in community building as well as business skill teaching to ensure farmers understood the benefits of good agricultural practices.

Under the GrowCocoa program, farmers have received $9.1m in premiums for quality crops, but Wilkins would not provide a detailed breakdown.

Many cooperatives participating in the GrowCocoa program train to earn third party certification from organizations such as UTZ Certified, Rainforest Alliance or Fair Trade USA.

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