Speaking on a Zoom call from the WCF headquarters in Washington, Vincent is upbeat about the Partnership Meeting, not least because representatives from both Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire have confirmed their attendance this year after boycotting the last PM in Brussels in 2022 because of a row with the cocoa industry on cocoa farmer payments.
“I think it's a progression of where we were last time. In 2022 we focused on partnerships and how we build partnerships to deliver impact, but obviously, the absence of Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana was not ideal for that conversation. But I think what we're trying to do in this meeting is …. considering the evolution of the regulatory environment around a global landscape … is now to align that global effort.
“We [the WCF] need to be convening and be at the centre and asking how we build those partnerships globally, not just locally. And I think, obviously, the EUDR is at the forefront of that. It is concentrating minds on a global basis in every country.”
We are very focused on our mission and vision and how we will deliver it ... and what we've done this year is we've rebuilt the team to deliver that strategy
The European Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) was introduced in June last year and comes into force in December 2024.
For cocoa (and other commodities) to be imported into the EU market, operators must provide detailed information about raw materials, quantities, origin countries, suppliers, geolocation of cultivation areas, and evidence of deforestation-free status - and regulatory compliance is essential.
‘The Known Unknowns of the EUDR,’ along with broader sustainability and traceability issues, will be at the forefront of the agenda on day one: Tuesday, 6 February, and it sets up a whole week of discussions as this year, the WCF meeting forms part of Amsterdam Cocoa Week.
“What I am most looking forward to is the buzz … that's what I remember most from last time,” says Vincent. He also confirms to ConfectioneryNews that attendance for this year’s meeting is higher than in 2022, with over 400 delegates confirmed.
“This year, we also have the partnership with Chocoa and Amsterdam Cocoa Week, so it's a much bigger cocoa event. That's what I'm most looking forward to – and focusing on the discussions on how we progress on these issues."
The theme of this year’s WCF Partnership Meeting is ‘Aligning for Global Action.’
Vincent explains the meaning behind the title: “I think that for everybody who is working - and inevitably, there are many, many stakeholders working on the many, many multi-layered approaches to these complex problems. The message is we've got to be looking on a global basis. So, if you look at the macro scale, if you're running a process in the US on child labour, you've got to be looking at what the EU is doing in its due diligence directive.
“You've got to be looking at what global funders are doing. You've got to be looking at what's happening in the origins; how are their national traceability systems developing? What are the African regional standards?...
“So the message is ‘you've got to work together’ globally, not on an inward focus … it's how these pieces join together.
Driving the cocoa sector onwards
Vincent says he wants the WCF to be the driver of those initiatives. “We talked last time about how we were refocusing on our convening role. And as we've gone through this year, we have clarified what it does and means by executing it.
For example, Vincent says the cocoa industry has pulled together, particularly around the EUDR: “We said, ‘OK, what does convening mean in this space,’ and you look at the spider’s web of organisations involved in delivering it outside of us.
“Some are industry associations, some are governments, some are embassies, some are funders. It's a complex network, and that's what the message we're trying to bring is: ‘Everybody's got to be pulling together globally, not just in their own little silos.’”
About the WCF
The World Cocoa Foundation is a non-profit membership organisation with more than 90 member companies including farm-level input providers, financial institutions, cocoa processors, chocolate makers and manufacturers, farmer cooperatives, cocoa trading companies, ports, warehousing companies, and retailers. WCF members operate from six continents, representing 80% of the global cocoa and chocolate market, and provide a uniquely informed perspective on the interconnected nature and needs of the cocoa industry.
Sixteen months since the WCF’s last meeting, the organisation is in much better health. Vincent reflects on its new-found confidence and approach from a strategy refresh he implemented last year.
“We are very focused on our mission and vision and how we will deliver it... We do two things: CFI [Cocoa & Forests initiative] and this convening role.
“We are completely aligned, and what we've done this year is we've rebuilt the team to deliver that strategy. We've now got an entirely new senior leadership team below me, so three people – I have a VP of Corporate Affairs, a VP of Operations, and a VP of programmes.
“There has also been a slight geographic shift before we were very heavily Washington-focused, and I think what you see with those new people coming on board in Europe globalizes our outlook much more. So, I feel we are at the centre of some really exciting processes, and I think that the convening role is quite exciting.
Vincent says that with the WCF in the middle of so many actors and complex issues, the style now is ‘layering,’ and what he means is that the organisation is not trying to over-reach and solve all of the issues at once – but work on the pieces where they can be most effective.
“There are other organisations that will be more effective at addressing certain aspects of farmer income, so it is looking to who are the best people to act and lead in each area.”
Vincent also highlights the achievements of the WCF in the past 12 months.
“So, we've delivered some results. We've announced a 'landscape approach at COP28, and we've got it up and running. We are in partnership with ECA [European Cocoa Association] and are working on the EUDR compliance angle. We have launched and expanded a deforestation data set, which I think is pretty groundbreaking not just in cocoa but across other commodities as well.”
Investing in Landscapes
Vincent expanded on the new ‘landscape approach.’
“Landscapes had been around, as it had been a theme before I took over as president. Part of my objective after the last partnership meeting was to tell the team: ‘Let's try and deliver because it's still not clear to me what this is, so let's push hard, and if we don't quite get there, at least we'll have learned some lessons along the way.’
"I see a landscape as an area you can understand - small is the wrong word - but let's say it's something like 250,000 hectares. It's still a big area land-wise, but it's something you can get your head around if you write the management plan for it, and you can really get a grip on what you are doing. So you can manage that landscape holistically in deforestation and say who's doing protection, who's doing conservation, and ‘where's the agroforestry?’
“And because of that, you can attract investment, and the good thing is we've got two companies already investing in this landscape who understand what it is they're investing in. You have to attract funding at the local level and internationally so that you can then create the model.
“This is the first one. We've done it; this is how it's going to work. We'll learn. Inevitably, there will be changes along the way, but hopefully, we'll get to a situation where other funders want us to create the next one.
Vincent says the first two landscape approaches focussed on the work in Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana, and results are expected later this year. “As I say, it's an evolutionary process, but to me, the comprehensibility of the impact of your actions is much more tangible. And you can use that as a platform to build on.”
Cocoa & Forests Initiative
Another success for the WCF is its role in the CFI, which he describes as if not “unique,” then very rare as it is a functioning Public Private Partnership (PPP) with governments in West Africa and Colombia and 36 companies.
“Now, let's take it to the next level. We will do more landscapes and fund those at that smaller level. But we're also going to build out CFI with external funding as well,” he says.
Vincent also reveals the WCF is also looking beyond cocoa to tackle some of the sustainability issues.
“We've built relationships with comparable organisations in other commodities this year as well – and we are learning from what's palm doing, soy, rubber, coffee?
“On that list of local laws, we've obviously done Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire – and from other organisations, we've got Malaysia and Indonesia, for example, and those play to our strength by also having a presence in those producing countries.”
Vincent says his priorities for the year ahead are focussing on the landscapes, helping members navigate the EUDR, and looking at expanding programmes like Cocoa Action Brazil to other countries such as Colombia.
“So we're delivering, we've got a clear strategy. We've got a great team - it's an exciting place to be now,” he says.
- ConfectioneryNews is the official media partner of the WCF Partnership Meeting 2024. Check out the full agenda here.