Small-holder cocoa farmers fear climate change, making a living, new survey highlights

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT

Women cocoa farmers said they are concerned with their ability to achieve a fair income. Pic: Cargill
Women cocoa farmers said they are concerned with their ability to achieve a fair income. Pic: Cargill

Related tags Solidaridad Cocoa Côte d'ivoire Ghana Sustainability

Five million, mainly small-scale farmers produce 75% of the world’s cocoa, and earning a living income has become the key objective for the cocoa sector. Still, despite various initiatives, it hasn’t changed core business practices so far. According to Solidaridad, an international civil society organization, paying a higher price to small-scale farmers, who produce the majority of cocoa, and improving procurement practices are critical if the living income gap is to be closed.

In a major survey covering nearly 10,000 farmers in 18 countries on three continents, including small-holder cocoa farmers from Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Nicaragua, the Small Farmer Atlas explores the perceptions of smallholders on a wide range of sustainability topics centred on three themes: prosperity, inclusivity and balance with nature.

According to Solidaridad, small-scale farms account for 90% of the world’s 570 million farms, yet these are often sidelined in discussions on topics critical to their livelihoods. The Small Farmer Atlas is an effort to help companies, governments and civil society to learn from farmers’ perspectives on sustainability.

Farming is the most important job in the world. They are the original influencers shaping our daily diets. The opinions and views of farmers matter​,” says Jeroen Douglas, Executive Director Solidaridad Network. “We invite companies and governments to take this to the next level and work to truly involve farmers in the design of policies and sourcing practices​.”

The Atlas includes farmers’ insights on issues ranging from prosperity and income, to bargaining power, land use and environmental sustainability. Women, in particular, said they are concerned with their ability to achieve a fair income, find market support, and produce in harmony with the natural environment.

Along with cocoa, this data-rich resource covers seven other commodities: bananas, coffee, cotton, palm oil, soybeans, sugarcane, and tea. The eight commodities covered in the Atlas are produced by roughly 120 million small-scale farmers, mainly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In its report, Solidaridad focused on two distinct categories of small-scale farmers:

Semi-commercial - These farmers typically sell a large portion of their production into commodity value chains, yet often live in poverty and rely on diverse strategies to survive.

Small-commercial - These are farmers with land holdings of less than 20 hectares. They are well-connected to domestic and international value chains, and farming can be a viable livelihood strategy for eventually achieving a living income.

‘Some of these farmers still live below the poverty line, others are on their way to a living income, yet these farmers have the means and access necessary to make farming work. Even for this potential, the research found that most have a negative outlook for the future of farming,’ the survey highlighted.

Key findings include:

  • Most farmers' income is insufficient for managing price volatility, leaving many at risk of serious losses.
  • Over half of all farmers surveyed feel they lack adequate access to markets, financing, and information to succeed.
  • Climate change issues – soil quality, ability to adapt to climate change, and access to water – are farmers’ most significant concerns.

Climate change

For many farmers, the impacts of a changing climate are their biggest concern. Nearly two-thirds of farmers surveyed in the Atlas struggle with a lack of resources needed to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Furthermore, across all 18 countries covered, farmers express grave concerns about deteriorating soil quality and water scarcity.

  • 60% express grave concern about the quality of their soils and the capacity to improve soil health.
  • 60 % express dissatisfaction with the availability of water for irrigation.
  • 57 % do not have the resources to adapt to climate change.

Over half of the farmers interviewed expressed confidence in their ability to meet basic needs. This indicates that sustainability interventions have had a positive impact, even through the pandemic and the related economic downturn when the survey was conducted. And yet, most farmers express that they are ill-equipped to handle price volatility or climate shocks.

Solidaridad said the Small Farmer Atlas illustrates the need for two critical interventions:

  • Profit-sharing across agricultural value chains that directly benefit farmers and improve their business case so they can invest in their farms and access finance.
  • The need for systemic change that prioritizes the perceptions of small-scale farmers and grounds interventions in their needs.

We are far from satisfied with how sustainability initiatives have worked out for farmers. Despite small-scale farmers’ prominence and decades of development support, we have yet to create a proper business case for farming within sustainable boundaries​,” added Douglas.

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