Serious cocoa deficit looms unless industry moves beyond certification ‘box ticking’ - Solidaridad

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Solidaridad: Industry must help farmers secure lands rights and access to planting material and fertilizer if a 1m MT deficit by 2020 is to be avoided. Photo Credit: ©Kadir van Lohuizen | NOOR
Solidaridad: Industry must help farmers secure lands rights and access to planting material and fertilizer if a 1m MT deficit by 2020 is to be avoided. Photo Credit: ©Kadir van Lohuizen | NOOR

Related tags Cocoa Supply and demand Certification Chocolate

The industry needs to go beyond certification box-ticking to avoid a sizable cocoa deficit by 2020, says sustainable supply chain adviser Solidaridad.

Solidaridad works with major players in the cocoa and chocolate industry such as Mars and Cargill to create sustainable supply chains and provides training to cocoa farmers.

Huge deficit unavoidable unless more is done

Hans Perk, international program director for sustainable cocoa at Solidaridad Network told ConfectioneryNews that the industry expected a 1m MT cocoa bean supply deficit by 2020.

“If things remain as they are there will be a deficit. More needs to be done,” ​he said.

Bram Verkerke, communications at Solidaridad added: “We are talking about serious deficits. In the board rooms of the big players they make the same analysis.”

Farmers are increasingly turning to other crops, which is threatening the cocoa supply. Meanwhile, demand for chocolate is forecast to grow 3% each year to 2020 driven by growth in Eastern Europe and Brazil. Asia is also quickly developing an appetite for chocolate further threatening the supply demand balance.


Confectioners such as Mars, Ferrero and Hershey have committed to 100% certified cocoa by 2020.

Perk said: “We have to be careful that certification doesn’t become ticking the box.”

He said that there were many social, environmental and economic issues not addressed by certification.

Two million farmers neglected

Verkerke added: “It’s also about the speed at which the bigger players are doing it.”

Many have doubled investments in the last decade, but still only half a million farmers out of around 2.5 million are being reached.

“The low hanging fruit has been picked but the harder work still has to be done,” ​said Verkerke.Many farmers are not part of cooperatives and operate in difficult to reach areas, he said.

Yields far below target

According to Solidaridad, industry sustainability efforts in the past few years have improved productivity on cocoa farms in West Africa (which accounts for 70% of the cocoa supply) by around 30-40% to 400 kg per hectare.

However, Solidaridad believes that West African farmers need to reach 1,200 kg per hectare to avoid the deficit.

Access to tools and fertilizer

Most efforts on sustainable cocoa are centered on training and certification.

Perk said that there were limited results from training because farmers still lacked access to planting material and fertilizer that field schools told them would boost their yields.

Farmer training © Kadir van Lohuizen  - NOOR
Farmers struggle to take advantage of best practices taught in field schools because they lack access to planting material and fertilizer. Photo Credit: ©Kadir van Lohuizen - NOOR

Solidaridad said that companies should invest to give farmers access to planting material and fertilizer.

Companies must also understand that farmers have other crops which they rely on for food and alternative sources of income. The industry can support farmers to grow these crops, said Perk.

Land rights

The industry could also work with West African governments to make it easier for farmers to secure land rights. Many farmers are reluctant to invest in improving productivity on their cocoa farms because they do not own the land.

Without ownership of the land, farmers do not have access to credit, which discourages them from investing.

Wasted youth

image 4
The next generation of farmers don't see a future in growing cocoa, says Solidaridad. Photo Credit:©Kadir van Lohuizen | NOOR

The average age of a cocoa farmer in West Africa is 50-years-old, while life expectancy in the region is 60 years.

Solidaridad said that many young people don’t see a future in cocoa farming and aspire to move to big cities.

 Verkerke said: “There needs to be a business case in growing cocoa. If you can’t ensure that, the chocolate industry is in trouble.”

Solidaridad said that the industry could incentivize young people to pursue a career in cocoa farming by investing in tools and fertilizers for the next generation of farmers.

Third party certifiers

Solidaridad is working with third party certification organizations Fairtrade, UTZ Certified and Rainforest Alliance. Solidaridad introduces farmers to the different standards for each certifier at field schools. Cooperatives can then decide which standards to work towards.

Perk said that farmers were following the market, which is currently demanding more UTZ Certified cocoa followed by Rainforest Alliance then Fairtrade.

‘Most consumers unwilling to pay for sustainable cocoa’

He said this may be because UTZ Certified concentrated on making cocoa growing financially viable for farmers through business skills, whereas Fairtrade focusses on the social impact on farmers and relies on demand from consumers - which is still very low.

For example, the Fairtrade sector in the Netherlands still only accounts for 3% of overall food and drink sales.

“The consumer is clearly not willing to pay for sustainable cocoa. They assume this is the responsibility of the brand they are buying from,”​ said Perk.

“It’s not only the responsibility of the industry. It’s too big to handle.”

Related news

Show more

1 comment

Clarion Call -- Thanks Solidaridad for Speaking Out

Posted by Len Garden,

Thanks again to Solidaridad for renewing a call for more progress in providing farmers better planting material and inputs that improve cocoa farm conditions. Government progress on land rights are also lagging (like their investment in infrastructure/ roads/ schools. More needs to be done.

Report abuse