Governments and companies have promised to go further and faster to drive positive change in cocoa supply chains and create a better future for farming communities and our climate. But turning those pledges into action remains a challenge, even without the added difficulties of inflation and supply chain disruption.
I’ve spent over 20 years working with cocoa communities in West Africa and seen the daily hurdles farmers face, from small plots of land and aging trees to a lack of local infrastructure or equipment. I've spoken to some who don't see a way forward in cocoa.
There are many farmers who have hope for a better future. And we are starting to see progress on the ground
However, there are many farmers who have hope for a better future. And we are starting to see progress on the ground, where tangible action and collaboration make a real difference to people and landscapes. In my experience, three things need to happen to scale this initial success.
1. Crack the behaviour change code
Breaking down cultural barriers is the first step toward getting to grips with some of cocoa's key challenges. Take child labour, where there are often deep-rooted customs and habits at play. Some parents expect children to follow in their footsteps and learn how to grow cocoa early. Sometimes labour laws are misunderstood.
We've worked closely with partners like the Fair Labour Association to test new ways to change attitudes, norms, and behavioUrs. For example, we sometimes find parents don't realize that working on the family farm can hurt their child's future, so we've focused on engaging with farmers not only on the legal definitions of child laboUr but also on the consequences it can have.
Gender inequality is another area that needs attention, and one recently explored in a report by Oxfam. In Ghana, our team has learned that working with partners and local leaders directly within cocoa communities is the most effective way to help them understand women's valuable role in cocoa production. Doing so allows families to have multiple sources of income, leading to more stability.
2. Harness the power of plant science for better incomes
When farmers can't afford to hire labourers, their children may be required to help on the farm. And when they can't earn enough from their plot of land, some encroach into forests. Plant science can assist farmers from having to make choices driven by poverty. We've run trials to discover and share best practices for producing high-quality and profitable cocoa without harming the environment.
One insight is that farmers who prune their cocoa trees, especially coupled with composting, can see a 40-50% reduction in pest or disease levels, allowing them to cut down on chemical pesticides while also improving their productivity by up to 20%. A simple change that can have a big impact.
3. Give communities a voice in managing the land
Cocoa farmers have a bigger stake than anyone in the success of their farms and the health of their environment. With the proper support, they can be agents of change.
Take deforestation, which can result from farmers clearing land to plant new cocoa trees. In Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, we found that helping communities set up landscape management boards empowers them to address the challenges and threats they face. While making it easier for farmers to register their trees enabled them to prove ownership and encouraged them to invest sustainably in their farms for the long-term like applying climate-smart agriculture techniques.
The reality facing cocoa communities and landscapes worldwide is acute, and the actions of individual companies or organizations are not enough to address it. Instead, we need to share learnings and mobilize the collective will in multi-stakeholder partnerships to deliver positive progress at scale.
- Olam food ingredients (ofi) is one of the world’s largest cocoa bean suppliers with a leading presence in 10 key producing countries across Africa, Asia and South America. Earlier this year it published its 2021 Cocoa & Forests Initiative (CFI) Report to share progress in ending deforestation and restoring lost forests in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.
- Andrew Brooks is Head of Cocoa Sustainability at ofi