Making strides towards sustainability

These past few days have been very much about the World Cocoa Conference here in Berlin.

From taking in the many presentations and conducting several interviews, it’s clear there is a very decisive message that there needs to be a greater pace of action on assistance for farmers in Africa and other cocoa growing regions around the world.

This has of course been noted for some while with a response from industry including Barry Callebaut’s Forever Chocolate programme aiming to lift hundreds of thousands out of poverty, as well as moves from the likes of Mondelez and Cargill.

However, there is considerable work ahead if companies joining government and private agencies to bring about an end to major issues including child labour within the sector in Africa.

As Frank Mars, board member of Mars, said this week: “Failure is no longer an option” in terms of delivering on sustainability goals seeking to make the industry work best for all involved.

The statistics speak for themselves, with around only 6% of profits from cocoa reportedly reaching growers.

While delegates from the African farming community highlighted – there has indeed been significant investment totalling hundreds of millions into efforts to aid farming communities, there remains a major disparity between growers and processors.

The issue was most readily highlighted by Fairtrade, which revealed that cocoa prices have dropped to such an alarming low, that even if production of cocoa increased threefold, it would not be sufficient to claw farmers out of their financial woes.

So where lies the solution? Perhaps one of the most potent arguments put forward is the International Cocoa Initiative, which asserted at the conference that what is required are firm commitments to policies and systems at national level in Africa and other regions, rather than individual projects.

Beyond the issue of paying farmers a living wage, there were other major matters that took centre stage, with considerable concern expressed regarding the two million children being used as labour within the supply chain.

There have been strong responses from individual governments including the Ivory Coast, which is installing a programme of community awareness and establishing a greater range of schools to ensure that young people gain valuable education opportunities.

The issue of gender inequality was also a headline issue at the event, with a number of speakers including from Mondelez, and Oxfam, as well as a powerful speech from the association of women cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast.

There were also significant environmental issues that came under the microscope including heightened levels of deforestation that have been directly caused by growers exhausting greater areas of land as the prices of cocoa continue to decline.

Despite such major concerns, the conference has committed to producing the “Berlin declaration” aiming to put forward solid policy proposals that would help deliver concrete change beyond the gestures of acknowledgement that change is needed.

Though many of these matters are neither new, there was a sense that a critical tipping point has been reached where greater action on the ground needs to be visibly demonstrated beyond the good will of those working towards improving the lives of those within farming communities.

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