This holiday weekend is typically when chocolate eggs and bunnies are enjoyed by those celebrating Easter. The celebrations this year are more somber given that the world is fighting the global coronavirus outbreak.
As we connect virtually with family and friends, and maybe organize an Easter egg hunt to keep our little ones busy at home, please think about the farmers who grow chocolate’s main ingredient, cocoa. They and their families are also threatened by the virus.
Two-thirds of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa. Other large producers include Indonesia, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru. Faced with growing transmission levels, these countries are taking critical steps to protect their citizens from the virus. But their health systems have limited capacity and they need urgent support. Cocoa-growing communities are particularly at risk since they cannot easily access clean water, health care, and social safety nets.
The good news is that cocoa and chocolate companies, including brand names that make many of your favorite Easter treats, are mobilizing to help fight the virus in cocoa farming communities. They are doing this in three ways:
Firstly, many of them have been working for more than a month now with their suppliers on the ground to help the governments contain the spread of the virus and save lives. In close collaboration with governments and humanitarian relief organizations, companies are donating critical emergency supplies such as soap, sanitizers, clean water equipment, and medical goods. They are broadcasting the government’s health care messages through their farmer communication channels and farmer training platforms. They are distributing copies of government coronavirus posters and other information in rural communities.
This direct help from industry in communities where cocoa is grown is possible because companies have worked for years with farmers to raise their incomes
All importantly, companies are avoiding becoming a cause of the virus’s further spread. During this busy growing season, company agriculture experts are typically found travelling all over the countryside to support farmer training on good agricultural practices, business development of farmer organizations, and a wide range of community development activities. Today, they are following government restrictions and minimizing travel and face-to-face contact with groups of farmers. Like all of us, they are practicing the recommended social distancing guidelines in the rural communities where they live.
This direct help from industry in communities where cocoa is grown is possible because companies have worked for years with farmers to raise their incomes, reduce child labor, and reverse deforestation. They have extensive networks and programs in cocoa-growing countries that enable them to deliver support to communities at this critical time of need.
Secondly, many of the large cocoa and chocolate companies are making major financial contributions to international relief and humanitarian organizations to support the emergency response around the world. These announcements already total hundreds of millions of dollars, and are supporting life-saving efforts by UN agencies, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, CARE, and others. More announcements are being made by the day.
In addition, cocoa and chocolate companies are coming together in collective action to mobilize funding for immediate COVID education and protection activities in cocoa-growing communities that are being hit hard by the virus. We are working with the governments to ensure that this targeted help aligns with the national emergency plans and is delivered by effective relief organizations on the ground.
Companies are stepping up for cocoa farmers at a difficult time for themselves and their employees. Many of them are shutting down production lines to protect employees, managing significant business disruptions in their supply chains, and facing financial uncertainty and economic risks.
Third, the cocoa and chocolate industry is staying focused on continued investment in the long-term resilience and sustainable livelihoods of cocoa farmers around the world. As we celebrate Easter, we should remind ourselves that one day this crisis will be over. But companies are partnering with farmers for the long term. They are working with farmers to achieve a thriving and sustainable cocoa sector, where farmers prosper, communities are empowered, and the planet is healthy.
There is an African proverb, “If relatives help each other, what evil can hurt them.” All of us in the cocoa supply chain are connected, from the cocoa farmer to the candy maker. Now is the time for all of us to join hands.
- Richard Scobey is President of the World Cocoa Foundation.