To mark the United Nations’ International Day of Education (Friday 24 January), which is observed by the UN to highlight the importance of education and its necessity to human wellbeing and sustainable development, Olam Cocoa has announced plans to extend an innovative learning programme that teaches school children from farming communities in Côte d'Ivoire about the devastating impact of climate change and deforestation.
The move comes on the day the UN convenes government, NGO and industry leaders in Paris to reaffirm the role education plays in developing the skills, tools and ideas needed to put an end to unsustainable practices and help humans to live in greater harmony with the natural world.
Olam Cocoa said five schools - comprising of almost 1,000 school children - have participated in the programme so far, and it is working in partnership with Rainforest Alliance and the Côte d'Ivoire government to extend it to three more this year.
The programme is focused on educating the next generation on sustainable, climate-smart practices and encouraging them to share that knowledge with their families. Olam Cocoa said it will contribute to efforts to eradicate deforestation in the country, which has lost its forests faster than any other African country.
In a joint statement with the Rainforest Alliance, Olam Cocoa said the reasons behind the dramatic rate of forest loss are complex.
Many smallholder farmers in the region make their living from growing cocoa, but the majority own a relatively small amount of land and yields are often not large enough for them to generate a living income that will fully support their families. Often those yields could be improved by adapting simple farming techniques, but a lack of knowledge means that many farmers instead resort to clearing more land, leading to deforestation and a loss of biodiversity.
Danièle Kouassi, Olam Cocoa’s head of cocoa sustainability in Côte d’Ivoire, said: “We believe that educating young people and empowering them to become sustainability champions in their communities is key to tackling the problem. We are already working directly with farmers to provide training and resources. By tapping into the interest children and teachers have in protecting the environment, we know we can have an impact that extends much further. I would like to thank the local administrative authorities in Côte d’Ivoire, namely the Ministry of Education and L’Office Ivoirien des Parcs et Reserves, for their valuable contributions to this effort.”
Importance of trees
As part of the programme, school children will be taught about protecting the environment and the importance of trees. Learning will be hands on as they are asked to maintain a shade tree nursery, plant trees and build awareness in their communities. Children will receive rewards for conservation activities, including school supply kits, watering cans, school uniforms, painting pots and sports equipment.
Nanga Kone, Rainforest Alliance country manager for Côte d’Ivoire, said: “Educating children on the value of trees and teaching them to grow forest tree seedlings in a nursery has a double benefit – not only for the students’ education but also in reinforcing the messaging to farmers, because the children go home and talk to their parents about what they are doing at school.”
Last year, Olam Cocoa launched its Cocoa Compass sustainability initiative and said it has already worked with the Côte d’Ivoire government and farming communities to plant 600,000 trees.