Equal partners: Cocoa farmer group calls to implement sustainable chocolate programs

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

United cocoa farmers' group the WCFO calls to be implementing partner in sustainable chocolate programs. ©iStock/golfloi17
United cocoa farmers' group the WCFO calls to be implementing partner in sustainable chocolate programs. ©iStock/golfloi17

Related tags Cocoa farmers Flo international Sustainability Chocolate International cocoa farmers organization Cocoa life

Sustainable chocolate programs must treat cocoa farmers as equal implementing partners, says the World Cocoa Farmers Organization (WCFO).

WCFO merged​ with the International CoCoa Farmers Organization (ICCFO) last November, bringing together 750,000 cocoa farmer members across the globe.

It says current chocolate and cocoa company sustainability programs tend to target organized groups that produce just 10% of the crop.

The united body says it could be an implementing partner in industry sustainability initiatives to reach the majority of cocoa farmers untouched by these programs because they are not part of a cooperative.

‘The silent minority is the majority'

“Sustainability should involve the 90% of smallholders who are not in groups,”​ Sako Warren, executive secretary of the WCFO, told ConfectioneryNews.


wcfo 1
Photo: WCFO

WCFO is headquartered in Utrecht, Netherlands, and has a regional office in Accra, Ghana. Its 750,000 members are smallholders, organised groups of cocoa farmers and farm workers in cocoa producing countries, such as Ghana, Côte D’Ivoire Ecuador, Indonesia, Jamaica and Colombia. 

"They produce 90% of what we consume and nobody knows about them...the silent minority is the majority.

"The unorganized farmers - in our view - are the people using children on farms.

"There's no way we are going to be able to bring down child labor when we don’t have improvement among the unorganized farmers."

Warren argued the top five chocolate companies must source from the 90% of unorganized farmers as businesses could not reach the volumes of cocoa they source annually only with the thousands that are part of their own sustainability programs.

‘Sustainability’ a term coined by industry not farmers

"Industry will always want to protect its interest and, of course, we respect that,”​ he said. “But they must understand there is going to be no industry when the farmers are not producing."

He said some WCFO members report they are ripping out cacao trees from their farms because of plummeting world cocoa prices.

"The word sustainability is something they [the industry] brought - not the farmers. Sustainability is something that we see as inclusive.

"If industry accompanies all the roles, then we will not guarantee sustainability,” ​said Warren.

Mondelēz International and Fairtrade

In November last year, Mondelēz International named Fairtrade as its global partner​ for Cocoa Life, the Cadbury maker’s 10-year $400m sustainability program launched in 2012.

Cocoa Life

mdlz cocoa life 1
Photo: MDLZ

Cocoa Life covers 200,000 farmers and a million people in communities in Côte D’Ivoire, Ghana, Indonesia, Brazil, India and the Dominican Republic. Mondelēz claims annual income for participating farmers in Ghana has doubled from 2009 to 2014. Around 21% of Mondelēz’s total cocoa volumes were from sustainable sources at the end of 2015 – half from Cocoa Life, half from certified sources.

Fairtrade will support Cocoa Life by strengthening cooperatives and supporting farmers to mitigate the effects of climate change.

“I think it is totally wrong to hear Fairtrade is implementing,” ​Warren alleged. "We respect what they are doing - but Fairtrade is not a service provider. It's a certification setting organizations.

"You cannot be a standards and certification organization and at the same time become the implementer - who is going to value what you are doing on the ground?"

Fairtrade: Implementing is integral to our work

Jon Walker, cocoa supply chain manager at the Fairtrade Foundation told us Fairtrade implements programs as an “an integral part of its work,” ​and he cited programs that have extended Fairtrade’s work with gold miners in Africa and female coffee farmers in Kenya.

“At the heart of Fairtrade is the concept of producer empowerment, and this is followed through from the producer networks to general assembly, the highest authority in Fairtrade, which has 50% producer representation,” ​he said.

Mondelēz did not respond to our request for comment.

‘Equal partners and not as workers’

WCFO’s Warren said: "Mondelēz and Fairtrade do not represent the farmers.

“Farmers are independent business people. We need to represent their values and not for them to be represented by another stakeholder."

He said farmers were tired of implementing programs for multiple chocolate producers when they have a limited voice.

"We want you to treat us like a partner and to implement what we are already implementing as equal partners and not as workers."

Warren argued WCFO - as a body that represents farmers - could be an implementing partner for chocolate company programs.

He said WCFO’s members have a deep understanding of the communities in which they live.

"It would not only be effective in improving livelihoods it will also be effective in cutting down child labor,”​ he said.

"At the end of the day, it is the farmers who are going to implement,” ​he said, adding that projects should not be forced on farmers.

WCFO is currently working with the University of Wageningen to compile a global database of cocoa farmers and is running projects with its members on gender equality and youth participation.

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