The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) – which represents cocoa origin and processing countries - has accused the farmers' group of “piggybacking” on its conference and has described its actions as “deplorable”.
Sako Warren, secretary general of the International CoCoa Farmers Organization (ICCFO) – a Dutch-based group representing 600,000 farmers across the globe - wrote an open letter to the ICCO’s executive director Dr Jean-Marc Anga calling for greater cooperation to address cocoa sustainability.
Two conferences both alike in dignity
Warren said the ICCFO will host a Global Cocoa Farmers Conference in the Dominican Republic from 20 to 21 May 2016, just a day before the ICCO’s World Cocoa Conference begins at the same venue “due to the absence of a forum for cocoa farmers and farm workers in the official program”.
Dr Anga said the ICCO conference has a full-day Farmers Forum on 22 May, available to registered participants of the ICCO’s World Cocoa Conference.
“I suggest that you join us rather than piggybacking on our established event with a competing conference of your own, a day before ours, for which you are charging participants a registration fee and soliciting sponsorship,” he wrote to Warren in an open letter response.
“This, in my view, is a deplorable and unfair practice, and is against the interests of both the ICCO and of the cocoa sector in general,” he continued. See below for both letters in full.
The ICCO’s Farmers Forum is not currently listed on the ICCO’s online conference program. The agenda for the inaugural day currently includes tennis and golf tournaments and welcoming drinks.
The ICCO conference costs $295 for farmers from ICCO member countries and $495 for farmers from non-member countries.
ICCFO’s Farmers Conference is free for cocoa farmers, but it does charge companies, governments and NGOs a registration fee.
Board membership rejection
Last September, the ICCO rejected the farmers group's application to become a member of its Consultative Board.
Speaking to ConfectioneryNews at the Chocoa conference in Amsterdam last week, the ICCFO’s Sako Warren said: "We are not coming to create a division.
"Our members have issues like - being unable to take care of their family, unable to send their kids to school, unable to even pay fertilizers and pesticides for their crop. These are the issues we want on the table."
The ICCFO head said that he would like to attend the ICCO’s conference if he is welcome and invited.
Warren said his group is also in talks with industry groups the World Cocoa Foundation and Caobisco, the European Confectionery Association, which both include members such as Mars and Ferrero.
"WCF is there representing the industry, ICCO is there representing the governments, so there is something missing here and that's the farmers,” continued.
"So far in our relationship with the World Cocoa Foundation, we haven’t got open language, just like we have from the ICCO."
WCF Acting President Tim McCoy said: "WCF has been in contact with ICCFO and is considering its proposals for sustainability activities in the cocoa sector."
Other farmer groups
Two other cocoa farmer organizations have been established in recent years: Côte d’Ivoire-based World Cocoa Producers Organization (WCPO) and the Rome-based World Cocoa Farmers Organization.
ConfectioneryNews understand the ICCO hopes to remain independent of these groups. But chairman of the WCPO Toussaint N'Guessan – also CEO of Ivorian cooperative UIREVI - is a member of the ICCO's industry and civil society Consultative Board on the World Cocoa Economy.