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Cocoa Farming in West Africa: Turning Hardship into Hope
Analysis of community development work indicates a 20-30% reduction in child labor in cocoa-growing communities, alongside increased school enrollment and improvements in income for cocoa-growing households.*
The earth in West Africa is rich.
It yields diamonds and gold. Petroleum and natural gas. Coffee and cocoa beans. But many working on cocoa farms in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire are impoverished.
While these two countries produce 60% of the world’s cocoa, most of it is grown on family plots or smallholder farms.
Born into cocoa farming
Many children are born into cocoa farming out of necessity, living in stark poverty, without enough to eat or clean drinking water. They often lack access to schools or hospitals and don’t earn enough to pay a farm worker.
These are the root causes of child labor, with generations of farm children expected to perform hard, sometimes hazardous manual work. And when they can’t attend school, the cycle of poverty is perpetuated.
New hope from committed partners
Cargill, like other cocoa suppliers, sources cocoa crops from struggling farmers like these.
And, like our many in-country partners – local farmers, co-ops and community leaders, governmental and non-governmental organizations – we are working diligently to foster change.
Together we strive to create thriving cocoa communities where everyone is well nourished and cared for. Where young people and women are empowered to succeed. And where children are educated and protected from hazardous labor.
Though change is never fast enough, we are making a meaningful, measurable impact – improving lives and livelihoods farmer by farmer, family by family.
“We are seeing really positive results from the work we and our partners, such as Cargill, are doing to tackle child labor in the cocoa sector in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. The most important thing now is to scale up the impacts that we are already seeing, by encouraging more action and investment from all stakeholders, sharing what we have already learned about what works and what doesn’t and driving that into a sector-wide effort.” – Nick Weatherill, ICI Executive Director
As part of our longtime partnership with the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), Cargill applies Child Labor Monitoring and Remediation System (CLMRS) to identify and protect children within our direct cocoa supply chain. We also engage local farming coaches to visit farms and conduct child labor checks.
The data is used to develop specific remediation plans that address incidents of child labor – or even prevent them. In the past year, Cargill and ICI used the system to identify more than 3,000 incidents of child labor, with remediation programs introduced for all cases.
Today this monitoring effort reaches over 58,000 farmers across 53 communities in Ghana and 37 cooperatives in Côte d'Ivoire. The next step is to scale the initiative to all 150+ cocoa growing communities in Ghana and 120 cooperatives in Côte d'Ivoire, accounting for almost 100% of Cargill’s direct supply in those countries.
By 2025, Cargill will have introduced a monitoring and remediation system in the five countries−Ghana, Cameroon, Brazil, Indonesia and Côte d'Ivoire−where we directly source cocoa. Our partnerships are essential to systemic, lasting, positive change.
Helping to create thriving cocoa communities where children stay safe and complete their education is part of the wider Cargill Cocoa Promise: our commitment to improving the lives of one million cocoa farmers and their communities by 2030.
“ICI will continue to partner with Cargill to scale up CLMRS across the company’s supply chain to reach more farmers and ensure children in cocoa-growing communities remain safe from child labor,” said ICI Executive Director, Nick Weatherill.
Empowering local communities, instilling pride
“Tackling child labor requires the skills and partnership of many—creating a local and international targeted effort,” said Taco Terheijden, Sustainability Director of Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate. “Working alongside technical experts like the ICI helps us learn how to take the labor-monitoring system to scale in a complex, smallholder agricultural supply chain, allowing us to speed progress and impact.”
Always, local communities and farmers are empowered to lead action plans that meet their own community’s needs. And with planning, tools and support comes the ability to actively improve daily life – and plan for a better future.
Hardworking cocoa farmers now gather together, helping each other during busy pruning and harvest times so their children can attend school. Those who’ve learned to read and write can better understand the receipts from their crop sales, helping to ensure fair transactions.
And whenever one farmer sees another’s child carrying schoolbooks instead of a machete, word spreads quickly – along with community pride.
Opportunities for education
Supporting educational access and women’s economic empowerment are among the most important ways we work to address the root cause of child labor: poverty.
To ensure more children can attend school, we work with partners to train school management committees, who work locally to improve enrollment, attendance and teaching quality.
With training, teachers are gaining skills – and newfound confidence. Clad in colorful school uniforms, their attentive students are eager to learn. Children who never dared to dream now have shining eyes when asked about their future. Fatoumata, a young Ivorian girl, who for the first time has the books necessary to learn, smiles and says, “When I grow up, I want to be a teacher.”
To welcome these young scholars, we are busily engaging partners in building schools, repairing classrooms and providing school kits, uniforms and books. We also support youth at risk of child labor by helping them develop vocational, business and life skills.
Supporting women’s economic success
In many cocoa communities, women make up half of the agricultural workforce but are meagerly compensated. Yet when given economic opportunities, they readily invest in their families and communities. That’s why it’s essential to empower women’s economic success. For the first time, women like Mary Tetteh have a voice – and a say in their own finances.
Mary runs a small cocoa farm in Ghana, which for years has been the only source of income to support her husband and 10 children. With support from groups like ICI, including adult education and training in business and financial management, Mary now reads, writes and leads her women’s group.
She’s also proud of the profitable rice farm she operates in addition to her cocoa farm. And best of all, she sends her children to school every day.
“My priority for engaging in rice farming was to get the financial means to support my children with their education,” says Mary. “I was able to buy school uniforms and books for all the children.”
Another training participant, Beatrice Nkubaa, studied pastry making with her women’s group. She is now using her new skills in her small catering business, able to care for herself and help her family.
With trade and business partners, we also give women access to small business loans and affordable credit through Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs). Since 2013, nearly 5,000 people have benefited from access to Cargill-supported VSLAs in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana – and most are women.
Such programs are lifechanging for women like N’goran Anna Delphine Aya, a rural Ivorian who battled discriminatory traditions – and finally triumphed to complete her schooling. Today N’goran is a farmer and member of her community’s development committee.
“If this kind of change can take root in our cocoa growing community, then it can happen anywhere,” she says.
From empowering cocoa-farming women to reducing poverty and child labor through better access to education, Cargill is committed to supporting strong West African cocoa communities that sustain farm families for generations. Despite significant challenges, we are driving meaningful and lasting change, transforming the future for entire communities – one farmer at a time.
And we’ll keep working to make a good difference in all of our cocoa communities until consumers know that the chocolate they buy is lifting up every cocoa farmer too.
More information about Cargill’s commitment to sustainable and responsible cocoa is available in our latest Sustainability Report.
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* Based on an analysis of the last 5 years of ICI’s community development work, implemented in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire with the support of ICI partners, including Cargill.