World Cocoa Foundation meeting strikes positive note amid major industry challenges

“The result that really matters  – a thriving and equitable cocoa sector,” said World Cocoa Foundation president Chris Vincent in his closing remarks concluding its latest annual partnership meeting held in Amsterdam last week, writes Neill Barston.

As the organisation noted, the event took place against a backdrop of high volatility within the commodities trading sector of the cocoa market, with prices rising to a nominal stock exchange high of over $5000 a tonne, placing notable strain on the sector.

Despite this Chris Vincent moved to place a positive theme for the event at the Beurs van Berlage, which included a total of 500 partners and stakeholders from across all strands of the industry, with Confectionery Production there to report on the event last week.

This annual event united cocoa farmers and experts from companies, governments, academia, civil society and media in a single forum for discussion on shared challenges, progress and learnings on sustainability in a conducive dialogue centred on alignment for global action.

Aligning for global action was the theme of the conference. “Aligning for Global Action”, underscores the critical interconnectedness between cocoa-producing and cocoa consuming countries with impending consuming country shaping the sustainability debate” commented Vincent.

As the WCF noted, it welcomed representatives from Ivory and Ghana, the world’s two largest cocoa producers, and held a series of high-level discussions that focussed on achieving a living income for farmers and how to navigate legislation surrounding the forthcoming European Union Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) so that farmers can sell their beans to the EU market. Dates for the next event were also confirmed as being in March 2025 in São Paulo, Brazil.

Vincent said that farmer income challenges underpin WCF’s focus areas of child labour and deforestation so “improving farmer income must remain at the forefront of everything that we do.” With a new strategy and team now in place, WCF feels confident in pushing its agenda to address these issues.

“These are complex, multifaceted problems that require many different solutions to be layered on each other to deliver results. Our programmes will concentrate on specific areas of systemic change where WCF’s unique position can exert the most significant influence.”

In a specially convened cocoa producer panel on day one, the stage was set by putting farmers’ voices and their perspectives at the start of the conference, a first for such an event.

The Partnership Meeting also had the support of the Dutch government, with an opening address by Pascalle Grotenhuis, Vice Minister for International Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She agreed with the need for global action to transform the cocoa sector, but she said global action without coordination, strategies and partnerships would get the industry nowhere.

“Purchasing practices need to change so that farmers can earn a living income, and the value needs to be distributed fairly along the chain,” she said.

The well appreciated C-suite panel also took place this edition and discussed the role of the Chief Sustainability Officer and how it can drive purpose and align stakeholders for positive impact. The importance of collaboration and a legislative framework to create a level playing field, is deemed necessary to jointly generate impact. According to Barry Parkin, Chief Procurement and Sustainability Officer at Mars and Roel van Poppel, Chief Sustainability Officer at ofi, sustainability is affordable, as long as it is included in the business model and there is a willingness to truly transform the system.

In the first of a trilogy of discussions on farmer income, the second took place at Chocoa, and the third will be held at the World Cocoa Conference in Belgium in April; delegates heard support for the guiding principle of a living income for cocoa farming families.

Moderated by Michel Arrion, executive director of The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), this first session concentrated on how the development and implementation of market-based policies can make a difference and was a timely topic, with cocoa prices reaching an all-time high in early February.

If the goal was to put farmer voices and their perspectives at the forefront of discussions, then the World Cocoa Foundation achieved its aim. “Despite soaring cocoa prices, 2024 poses formidable challenges for farmers, with adverse weather conditions and disease affecting yields in West Africa.” Vincent concluded. All the stakeholders in the room, and those following the talks from the wider echelons of the chocolate industry, will be left in no doubt of the work needed to accelerate sustainability across the sector, even if all the parts become aligned.


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