Fairtrade report highlights urgent need for joint industry action on sustainability schemes

The latest set of studies from Fairtrade released this week into sustainability initiatives in core cocoa growing locations including Ghana and Ivory Coast have produced some extremely notable findings.

Perhaps the most startling of the organisation’s results of its work undertaken with Mondelez International, with whom it has partnered for the past four years, relates to its concerns over ‘considerable overlap’e existing with community support schemes in these key producing nations that are vital for confectionery supply chains.

According to Fairtrade’s research, a total of over 90 sustainability schemes operating in the two countries are targeting 2.8 million – significantly exceeding the estimated 2 million cocoa farmers across West Africa, meaning a significant overlap of such operations, totalling 800,000.

As the charity stated, a greater level of all-round transparency from those operating such projects is required in order to prevent schemes clashing with each other, and weakening their effectiveness. In Fairtrade’s view, only by greater multi-agency working on a combined initiatives, will such work have meaningful impact on the underlying poverty that has hit these countries particularly hard.

The majority of farmers working in Ghana and Ivory Coast are still on wages below those of UN definitions of poverty – which has led to the array of respective support schemes from key players including Cargill, Mars, Mondelez, Ferrero, Barry Callebaut and Nestle. To its credit, the industry has made motions towards supporting Ghana and Ivory Coast plans for instituting a living income for farmers, which if this comes into full being, may prove gamechanging in terms of both the cocoa sector and government ensuring that a decent level of wages reaches those who are on the frontline of the sector.

Another key finding from the Fairtrade study related to the fact that in its estimation, more than one million farmers in remote areas of Ghana and Ivory Coast may in fact be missing out on assistance from sustainability schemes due to their rural, remote locations. It is perhaps understandable that the sector’s initiatives to support farmers have reportedly revolved around assisting the largest, most accessible cocoa growing operations. A shift into broader support programmes is clearly needed – and through the aid of technology such as developing digital apps for the farming community (as has been seen with Cargill), are extremely welcome measures.

The multitude of sector problems is of course broken down into many sub-issues of equal importance – from ongoing issues with deforestation, child labour, through to raising education levels and improving agricultural infrastructure across the region. As we have previously mentioned, these are in themselves huge subjects that we have touched upon regularly with the pages of Confectionery Production, and we will continue to do so.  The way forward to develop successful solutions for the sector within Africa clearly need access to inventive technological solutions, as well as direct support on the ground, and a much more rapid rate.

But as Fairtrade has highlighted, without a greater level of joined-up thinking happening in the short rather than medium-term, the future viability of the cocoa sector and its core global chocolate confectionery market remains in doubt.

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