ICCO’s Michel Arrion opens 10th anniversary Chocoa with key farmer pay plea

Michel Arrion, executive director of the International Cocoa Organisation opened this year’s Chocoa Amsterdam Sustainable Cocoa Conference with a key call to triple crop prices to offer a major boost to farmers, reports Neill Barston.

Speaking remotely for the opening day of the event yesterday, he offered an impactful address in which he confirmed his supporting backing EU due diligence legislation for deforestation and human rights surrounding all products entering the European trading bloc.

The event returned for its tenth anniversary in Amsterdam this week in a new hybrid format as part of the wider Chocoa cocoa and chocolate industry showcase, after being forced to go online in February 2021 at the peak of the pandemic, which had gained a positive response from online attendees.

Confectionery Production attended the opening day’s event at the Beurs van Berlage, which placed a valuable spotlight on craft chocolate makers, cocoa traders and major industry policy surrounding sustainability policy, and the need for sustained collective action around the world.

Arrion told the conference via zoom: “This has been something of a Holy Grail. It has been a long journey, having started out more than 20 years ago talking about sustainability issues. Chocoa is now 10 years old, as is the local cocoa agenda in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

“I think we have had a lot of discussions over the past decade on sustainability, but I think we have been focusing too much on the symptoms rather than the problems. There has been a lot on deforestation and child labour, but little discussion on poverty, and level of income for farmers,” he explained, noting that the issue of payment of agricultural workers around the world, but particularly in the core markets of Ivory Coast and Ghana was of critical importance.

Living Income  

He added that one of the key elements on improving payment came with the introduction of Living Income Differential (LID) payments to farmers of $400 per tonne for cocoa crops, which he said put the issue on the table in practical terms.

However, as Confectionery Production has reported, the introduction of the scheme three years ago has encountered difficulties, with wider cocoa prices dropping (including on the Futures markets), farmers have in turn come under increasing pressure, which has worsened during the pandemic.

He noted that while efforts to assist communities sustain themselves through agroforestry, had been welcomed, they had not proved entirely successful in terms of overall benefit to agricultural communities at the heart of the cocoa trade serving the confectionery industry.

“We have not seen projects that have really made a substantial increase for farmers incomes. I think that we have to go back to the question on policies. In the end it comes back to prices- we should be looking to triple prices of cocoa if we want farmers to receive a decent living income. I don’t think this is unrealistic, as 40 years ago, prices were in fact four times what they are now.”

He explained that no one country has been able to tackle the situation regarding the price drop from its peak, but he believed that intervention on a ‘non strategic product’ such as cocoa is entirely possible.

Arrion added that there was now a ‘paradigm shift’ represented by the new EU legislation on due diligence, but as part of this he said there needed to be a recognition that despite collective efforts over the past twenty years, many sector goals had not been attained. However, he remained optimistic that long-term solutions would eventually be found, with legislation providing a catalyst for this.

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