By: Ian Healey and Philipp Hirt-Reger
Cocoa is the most crucial source of family income to many West African people since the region is the key global growing area for this raw material. Cocoa represents the main substance of all the wonderful creations which serve to sweeten our everyday lives, our weekends, our celebrations and which improve our mood when life seems to have treated us unfairly. As we delight in these premium products made of the finest chocolate, we are even prepared to spend five or six Euros for the indulgence. However, the cocoa farmers only profit to a neglectably small extent. The per capita household income of many male and female farmers in West Africa amounts to less than two dollars per day, below the poverty threshold.
The German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa “Forum Nachhaltiger Kakao” has sat out to change this and has brought to life the project PRO-PLANTEURS. The aim of this initiative is to support around 20,000 cocoa producers – families and cooperatives – in Southeast Ivory Coast to increase their quality and earnings and thus improve income, nutrition and living conditions in general. Above all, women should receive more opportunities to create a better nutritional basis for their families through a reliable source of income.
The Forum ist a cooperation between the German confectionery industry, the German food retail trade, civil societal organizations and the German government, represented by the Ministry for Food and Agriculture and the Ministry for Economic Development. Twenty-five members of these groups recently travelled to Ivory Coast to follow the trail of the sweetest pleasure and find out for themselves how this project is progressing.
You need to understand sustainability to be sustainable
An important reason for this trip was to pass on a real understanding of the local situation and to experience for oneself the conditions under which the precious raw material in grown. Many members of the group have worked with raw materials from the region, but without a personal experience of visiting the area.
“Only those who really understand the topic of sustainability can fight for it,” says Wolf Kropp-Büttner, Chairman of the Forum Nachhaltiger Kakao. “That’s why it is our aspiration to bring about a genuine understanding in our members and their co-workers. We have seen where the focus is to be found, whether in the question of securing a livelihood, the price of cocoa, or simply protecting the forests.”
The visit of the four cooperation partners to different regions in the African country was absolutely beneficial, especially when taking a look at the schools sponsored by the Pro-Planteurs, the Farmer Field Schools and the Farmer Business Schools. These training initiatives teach about methods of planting and harvesting, as well as care and cultivation, operations management, accounting and general administration skills.
“Each one of us now knows how much cocoa we have harvested and how much money we will get,” related Lambert Kouamé proudly. He is a cocoa farmer from the Ecaesb cooperative in Bacon in the south east of the country. For Lambert and the other farmers this was a real eyeopener, although for those in Germany this is taken for granted. “Without knowing about a regulated accounting, it would not be possible to work so transparently with these farmers,” underlines Judith Steffens, Project Manager with PRO-PLANTEURS.
The potential benefits of a more professional and controlled cultivation of a cocoa plantation could be clearly seen by the example of the Rasso cooperative in Azaguier, near the capital city Abidjan. Salome, a cocoa farmer who inherited the land from her parents, harvested around 300 kg per hectare. Through regeneration of the tree stock, careful plant care, pruning and the additional of self-recovered compost she was able to increase this yield to around 1500 kg per hectare. As a comparison, the average harvest per hectare in Ivory Coast is 450 kg.
Big challenges for the cocoa sector
The Forum Nachhaltiger Kakao has also studied the topic Diversification of Cultivation. This means the planting of other foods and fruits in the fields. Manioc, or cassava, plantain bananas, tomatoes, aubergines, onions and paprikas all serve to ensure the family’s nutrition throughout the year. Surplus amounts can be sold at market and further income is gained.
The journey to the Ivory Coast also gave a viewpoint into other challenges which affect the cocoa sector in West Africa. Two problems are deforestation and child labour. In the Cayat cooperative in Assatindin a project to monitor and prevent exploitation of child labour was introduced, in which the Forum Member Nestlè is leading the way. The training programs raise awareness of the dangers of employing children, such as for example in carrying heavy loads or working with dangerous tools.
An equally urgent topic is the loss of forests. In Ivory Coast, 30-40 percent of the cocoa comes from protected forest. However planting trees and settling there is not allowed. To help solve this problem, the German government has laid a foundation to support cocoa farmers by allocating an area outside the forest.
However the greatest current problem for farmers in the Ivory Coast is the price of cocoa. In the last two years this has fallen by around 30 percent. The activities of Pro-Planteurs certainly help to counter this, but cannot completely cover the losses in sales.
This is typical in the food industry, since prices for ingredients do fluctuate. In the case of the cocoa farmers, there is still hope, since ever more chocolatiers are sourcing sustainably produced cocoa for their specialties. In Germany, the proportion is around 55 percent, up to 60 percent of Forum Nachhaltiger Kakao members. By 2025 the target of the Association of German Confectioners is for 75 percent. This is due in a large part to the successes of the Forum Nachhaltiger Kakao since 2012.