Cocoa Barometer 2020 demands industry stops beating about the bush and ends farmer poverty once and for all

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT

'High yields of cocoa means poverty for farmers and excessive profit for chocolate manufacturers,' the 2020 Cocoa Barometer report claims. Pic: ICI
'High yields of cocoa means poverty for farmers and excessive profit for chocolate manufacturers,' the 2020 Cocoa Barometer report claims. Pic: ICI

Related tags Cocoa Sustainability

After two decades of failed interventions across the cocoa sector, cocoa farming communities are still battling the effects of poverty, child labour and deforestation, the new report highlights.

The influential 2020 Cocoa Barometer report​, published this week, has refreshed its demands for a system change to end cocoa poverty outlining the necessary steps governments and industry should take, together with farmers and civic society organisations, to end deforestation and human rights abuses in the industry’s supply chains.

In an online press conference for the launch, which attracted more than 400 attendees from across the cocoa industry,  Antonie C Fountain, from the VOICE Network, and one of the reports authors, said: "Living income is a human right. It's a starting point, not the finish line."

The Cocoa Barometer

The Cocoa Barometer is published biennially by a global consortium of civil society actors; ABVV/Horval, Be Slavery Free, European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT), Fair World Project, Fern, Green America, Hivos, INKOTA-netzwerk, Global Labor Justice/International Labor Rights Forum, Mighty Earth, Oxfam America, Oxfam Belgium, Rikolto, Solidaridad, Südwind Institut, Tropenbos International.

As a biennial review of sustainability in the cocoa sector, the 2020 Cocoa Barometer report provides stark details of how little positive impact current and past interventions are having for the farmers at the beginning of the supply chain. It also outlines the current challenges in cocoa (child labour, deforestation, poverty), as well as necessary changes to tackle their root causes. 

Twenty years since the Harkin-Engel Protocol was established by the Governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, representatives from the international chocolate and cocoa industry, and the US Department of Labor (DOL) to take action to reduce child labour, the challenges on the ground remain as large as ever, the report states.

Poverty is still the daily reality for virtually all West African cocoa farmer families, child labour remains rife and old growth forests continue to be cleared to make way for cocoa production​,” the authors note.

Recent momentum for change

The 2020 Cocoa Barometer report takes into account the recent momentum for change gathering across different stakeholders and says: “Thanks to campaigning civil society organisations, the last two years have seen an increasing number of chocolate companies asking for regulation; significant global actors like the EU are committed to putting legislation in place; and the world’s two largest producers of cocoa, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, have formed a cartel to drive up the price for cocoa farmers​.”

Cocoa Barometer co-author Antonie C Fountain of the VOICE Network says: “After two decades of voluntary initiatives that do not tackle the root causes, it is time for systemic change in the sector. All the ingredients are there to make it work, but it is now time to move forward, and put in place ambitious, holistic and mandatory change, so that we can finally tackle the poverty, child labour and deforestation in cocoa​.”

2 Cocoa barometer tree grab
Challenges in the Cocoa Sector - the Cocoa Barometer Tree.

But to seize this moment, the report states it is vital that the sector learns from its mistakes or it risks repeating them.

Of more concern for the chocolate companies and cocoa suppliers, the report finds that the last two decades of interventions have failed for three main reasons:

First, efforts have only been voluntary, not mandatory, meaning that across the sector, actors are failing to do what they need to. Within the multitude of government-driven covenants, national multi-stakeholder platforms and sector-wide collaborations, there are no penalties for noncompliance from companies or governments, nor enforcement to meet targets. Ironically, the report says, those at the bottom (cocoa farmers living below the poverty line) lose their sustainable cocoa certification if they do not comply.

Whilst we’ve seen a significant increase in regulatory processes and commitments to due diligence, they are limited without accountability, transparency and equitable enforcement​,” the authors conclude.

Second, while bad farming practice has been addressed, the underlying problems that exacerbate extreme poverty – including low cocoa prices, lack of infrastructure and no transparency and accountability as you move higher in the supply chain – remain unchallenged and unsolved.

There needs to be recognition that in its current form, the business model for high yields of cocoa means poverty for farmers and excessive profit for chocolate manufacturers. It’s time this changed.​”

Third, efforts to solve complex issues of injustice and unsustainability in the cocoa sector have not been inclusive or holistic enough. Instead of inviting farmers and civic society to take a respected seat at the decision-making table, problems have been assessed using a top-down industry-based approach. This, the report notes, serves the interests of industry and government, rather than the producer farmers and their communities.

We are at the crossroads​” says Isaac Gyamfi, managing director for Solidaridad in West Africa. “Do we continue skirting around the issue of farmers wellbeing, or will all stakeholders together radically redesign value distribution and decision making in the cocoa sector? Let’s make space at the table and assure a living income, for both farmers and workers​”.

The 2020 Cocoa Barometer report makes three key recommendations:

1. Regulation that changes the system, rather than penalising the farmers

Recognising that bad farming is not the problem, but rather a symptom of a deeply unfair system, the report advocates for systems change and regulation that creates an enabling environment. Current forms of certification and farm-based standards increase pressure on farmers: instead, we need laws that hold the powerful accountable, rather than systems that demand farmers to solve systemic issues. Compliance criteria are imbalanced and need restructuring so that companies are held accountable to due diligence systems.

2. Effective partnerships between producer and consumer countries

We need partnership agreements between producer and consumer countries that facilitate and finance system change, ensuring the right policies are in place. Processes that set partnerships in motion should be inclusive and deliberative, ensuring that civil society and farmer groups have a respected voice at decision-making tables.

3. Deliver on a fair price for farmers

The single biggest positive impact for farmers and incentive for farming sustainably is delivering a fair price for the cocoa they produce. Cocoa and chocolate companies must find ways to redistribute value along the supply chain so that farmers are guaranteed a living income.

Sandra Sarkwah, Coordinator for the Ghana Civil-Society Cocoa Platform (GCCP), says she supports the publication of the Cocoa Barometer 2020. “Efforts of sector players to change the story of farmers keep on beating about the bush when evidence presents to us the plight of farmers, thus, low income from their hard work is a major threat to cocoa sustainability,​” she adds.

Processors, chocolate manufacturing companies and retailers who earn a large chunk from the value chain must be fair to farmers by paying a living income and this must reach the farmer​”.

Sarkwah echoes the report’s recommendations and also says: “This will require the efforts of various actors, including civil society organisations in both producing and consuming countries, as well as strong farmer cooperatives to demand transparency and accountability for effective delivery of pricing policies for better farm gate prices for farmers​.”

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1 comment

J & G Plantation

Posted by Gary McKown,

Sure would be nice if COCOBOD Ghana would pay me. They owe me for a harvest I took 5 truck loads of beans total 6.5M on Aug 13 2020 and haven't been paid to this day.
I also took them a truck load of beans July 10 2018 and still haven't been paid. Took them to court and sued for 8M.
Now COCOBOD Ghana is holding my money they want 150K for taxes on 6.5M and the Ghana High Courts waived all my taxes for 2029 2020.
This is very bad business in Ghana if they treat other farmers like this, and my lawyer said we are not the only farmers who haven't been paid.
I have 34 workers who busted their asses working for me and haven't been paid one penny since Mar 2018. All thanks to COCOBOD not paying me my money

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