This year’s World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) Partnership Meeting returns to Latin America for the first time in five years, when it convenes in Sao Paulo, Brazil on October 24 for two days of discussion centered around the theme: ‘The New Frontiers of Cocoa Sustainability’.
In a pre-Meeting interview with ConfectioneryNews (CN), Tim McCoy, WCF’s vice president for member & external relations, said: “We see in Brazil some interesting developments that might serve as models for other cocoa producing regions. The Partnership Meeting will be an opportunity to strengthen our work in Brazil on cocoa sustainability.”
McCoy was in London, passing through from WCF’s headquarters in Washington DC on his way to Côte d'Ivoire for the price announcement of the 2018-2019 season main cocoa crop.
The non-profit WCF’s Partnership Meeting is the only industry-led global conference on cocoa sustainability. Its focus areas are: farmer livelihoods; community empowerment; human rights and the environment.
McCoy is responsible for the organization’s global communications, media, donors, governments and other key stakeholders, and he also manages reputational risk engagement on behalf of the chocolate and cocoa industry.
He has been with the WCF for six-and-a-half years, lives in Baltimore and has visited at least 60 countries in a career spanning more than 25 years in international affairs and political and economic development programs, primarily in Africa.
Farmers’ living incomes
This year’s meeting follows the fourth World Cocoa Conference, which took place in Berlin at the end of April, and concluded with a declaration that included a call to improve farmers’ living incomes.
Rick Scobey, the WCF president, also said it was a “top priority”.
McCoy told CN the issue is an ongoing discussion. “The WCF is involved in some multi-stakeholder working groups on the issue and we’ll be addressing it in Brazil as well with a session on famers’ living income.”
WCF’s CocoaAction was setup in 2014 to tackle sustainability to help co-ordinate cocoa programs from the major manufacturers including Mars, Nestlé and Mondelez.
“In the next few weeks, we’ll be releasing some of the learnings from CocoaAction 2016-17, and you’ll see through the data how challenging this work is.”
McCoy exclusively revealed to CN that the WCF has been developing a version of CocoaAction for Brazil, which will be launched at the Partnership Meeting. “This serves as a great opportunity for WCF and the larger cocoa sustainability community to strengthen our network in Brazil along sustainability lines,” said McCoy.
CocoaAction remains an ambitious project for WCF and the Partnership Meeting proves an opportunity to get everyone around the table to make sure it remains on course.
“How do we ramp up the scale of what’s been done out in the field? I think it’s only through trial and error we learn about what is working well and where we can best use our resources to help cocoa growing communities,” said McCoy.
Trip to Brazil’s ‘City of Cacao’
As part of this year’s WCF partnership meeting participants will have the opportunity to explore Bahian cocoa up close, with site visits to research centers and the region’s unique cabruca cocoa production model.
The two-day filed trip will use Ilhéus, the city of the cacao ‘gold rush’, as its base where, according to local author Jorge Amado, “there was no conversation in which the word ‘cacao’ did not play an essential part”.
Local cocoa farms are also known for their pioneering environmental practices protecting the threatened Atlantic forest in Bahia. The party will also get to meet sector leaders who are tackling quality and innovation challenges locally.
Wider points of discussion in Sao Paulo will include highlighting cocoa production in South and Central America.
“Production models are evolving in the way we think is really interesting,” said McCoy. “In Ecuador, we are already seeing some large-scale production and engagement with outgrower schemes, the same in Nicaragua.
“Brazil has its cabruca system, which is cocoa growing in forests. And with deforestation issues front and centre in the cocoa world, it will be interesting to take a look at those models, and it may help inform other cocoa producing regions of the world.”
The new collaboration between Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana will also be on the agenda, according to McCoy. "We will also be looking closely at West Africa, with the presence of Conseil du Café-Cacao director general Yves Brahima Koné and Ghana Cocoa Board chief executive JB Aidoo."
On farmers’ engagement, McCoy said the WCF is working hard, and that community empowerment was one of the pillars of the organization.
“On farmers engagement, I think we can expand the scale, already there are important initiatives being carried out by industry, which the WCF helps to coordinate. We also have direct program implementation in the field - those efforts are already underway and from that we have learned about the rate of adoption of agricultural practices by farmers, which are thought to be key to improving farmers’ livelihoods.”
As well as serving as a platform to share best practices and other learnings among its members, which include many of the top cocoa manufacturing companies, to create a sustainable and thriving cocoa sector, the WCF is also an important platform for farmers’ voices.
“It’s a great opportunity to hear from industry sources and also hear from civil societies, farmers’ voices, the donor community and experts on various topics. Last year in Washington, we talked about traceability and innovation for example, and we pull in thought leaders to help us think outside the box a little bit.”
McCoy said the WCF currently has 105 members. “Growing our partnerships with others who are focused on sustainability is as important as it’s ever been. Rick has done an amazing job reaching out to other groups, working more closely with some of the groups based in Europe and we are working with groups now in Brazil that we have never worked with as well as strengthening our relationship with Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire.”
One of the takeaways that McCoy would like to see from this year’s Sao Paulo conflab is that it showcases some of the interesting and innovative work going on in cocoa growing communities in Brazil, Belize, Peru, Nicarguara, Columbia and Ecuador.
“The world of cocoa is not only a small-holder model as we see in West Africa, South America is different. We will hear from Brazilian farmers, both large scale and small scale, and the Meeting will include two farmers’ panels; one Latin American and one West African, which will include women farmers from Cote d’Ivoire.”
The last time WCF’s partners convened in Latin America was in 2013 in the Dominican Republic, next year Europe might be the host continent, but McCoy would not divulge any further details, his mind clearly on this year’s meeting. “It’s been a while since we have been in South America, there’s lots happening,” he smiled.