Cocoa initiative’s work holds potential against the tide of major sustainability challenges

The move from the Ivory Coast and Ghana Cocoa Initiative to establish a working group to resolve a seemingly stalemate within commodity prices that remains a critical issue for the sector’s future is clearly an interesting prospect.

There’s little denying the fact that significant tensions have risen to the surface between farming communities and major industry players in the cocoa and chocolate trade over how best to deliver a living income for agricultural workers who are at the very heart of the business, yet in the main, continue to struggle to earn a viable wage.

Indeed, the fact that both Ghana and Ivory Coast boycotted the recent World Cocoa Foundation partnership meeting in Brussels represents the level of crisis befalling the sector, hit by reduced crop prices, inflated fertiliser costs, and ongoing residual impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing logistics issues.

As we have discussed at great length previously, engagement programmes from groups including Nestle, Barry Callebaut, Mars and Mondelez have all heralded promise, and indeed, much needed funding and educational/social programmes that are well meaning, and no doubt in many instances, effective at driving change.

But what remains, ultimately, is the sheer scale of the task at hand – with 1.5 million minors still at risk of child labour in the region, the aforementioned schemes are probably reaching around 20-25% of all farms involved in the sector within Ghana and Ivory Coast, so reaching the remaining three quarters of farms in what remains an industry still dominated by smallholder farmers often working in remote rural locations, represents a huge ongoing challenge.

However, doing nothing is not an option – so the likes of the recently created Ivory Coast and Ghana Cocoa Initiative are indeed placing a valuable spotlight on the issue of farmer payment/income as the core for delivering long-term change for the better. Some industry observers have asserted that there is an ‘obsession with cocoa prices’ – but unless this is resolved for the good of all in the near future, then the next generation of potential farmers will surely turn their efforts towards other industries away from agriculture, threatening the very viability of the sector.

Neill Barston, editor, Confectionery Production

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