Good News for Cocoa and the Global Food SystemNovember 27, 2012
Eric Servat, senior manager of the Rainforest Alliance’s cocoa program, talks about the growth and challenges of our cocoa work.
While Halloween is the peak time for chocolate news in the US, the holidays are our peak chocolate eating season. Any chocolate enjoyed in the US is likely to contain cocoa grown in Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s largest cocoa producer. And cocoa beans from Côte d’Ivoire are now increasingly likely to be grown on Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM farms.
Rainforest Alliance certification has grown phenomenally in Côte d’Ivoire since leading brands such as Mars, Unilever, Kraft and Hershey, and processors such as Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest chocolate manufacturer, committed to sourcing their cocoa from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. Some 75,000 Ivorian farms, covering more than 1.2 million acres (500,000 hectares), have become Rainforest Alliance Certified in just the last six years. This massive expansion is driven by the recognition that cocoa farmers’ incomes and yields need to rise dramatically to make cocoa production sustainable, and that certification can help accomplish these goals.
There are more than a million cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire, the vast majority of them smallholders, plus another 3.5 million Ivorians who depend on income from cocoa-related activities. After a brief spike during the 2011 civil conflict, prices paid to farmers for cocoa beans are again low. Until recently, Ivorian farmers received a fraction of what cocoa sold for on commodities markets in London and New York. Côte d’Ivoire has a long history of price volatility, exploited smallholders earning low wages and child labor.
These are intertwined, systemic and longstanding problems. But they’re problems with consequences too severe to tolerate, and the new Ivorian government acknowledges that they must be remedied. Unfair cocoa prices and poverty wages for cocoa farmers have been cited as important factors in Côte d’Ivoire’s political instability during the last 11 years of civil war. The Nation wrote in 2011, “The fundamental reason that fighting is breaking out again [in Côte d'Ivoire is] a profoundly unjust international economic order that pays the people who supply our primary products a pittance and leaves their nations chronically ill with unemployment and poverty, and with people who will fight one another over scarce resources.”
Unrest in Côte d’Ivoire threatened disruptions in cocoa supply, already under long-term pressure from pests, fungi, unsustainable farming techniques and, increasingly, climate change and drought. Supply will have to increase steadily to meet progressively climbing demand — for the last century, cocoa demand has grown consistently at a rate of 3 percent a year. Low yields have raised speculation about future cocoa shortages. More fundamentally, low yields and inadequate incomes undercut the aspirations of millions of Ivorians for better lives for themselves and their families, and basic equity for growers of this $5 billion global commodity.
The key to achieving justice for Ivorians and an adequate future supply of cocoa for consumers is to raise yields dramatically. It can certainly be done. After working with USDA and IBM to map the cocoa genome, Mars announced this year it knows how to raise yields from 400 kg per hectare to 1,500 kg. Beyond assuring future supply, higher yields generate higher income for farmers, and reduce economic pressures that exploit smallholders and draw children into working on the farms.
Since 2008 the Rainforest Alliance has worked with multiple stakeholders to make cocoa production sustainable and raise yields and profitability. In Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere, Rainforest Alliance Certified farms rely on sustainable soil, crop, pest, water and energy management to cut costs and raise yields on existing farmland, without clearing forestland for crops or resorting to damaging slash-and-burn, chemical-intensive methods. The Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA) recently studied the impact of Rainforest Alliance certification on cocoa farming in Côte d’Ivoire. It found that after adopting sustainable techniques and becoming certified, farms increased their yields 58 percent, and raised their net incomes by almost a factor of four.
Meanwhile, the Coffee and Cocoa Council issued this new reform, which has raised expectations; their objectives are to promote transparency, sustainability, fair pricing and farmers group strengthening. We’re confident that as certification grows, and collaboration continues to improve among the key actors, so will the lives of cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire.
Problems there remain entrenched — prices and yields generally are low, farms are vulnerable, examples of child labor and other abuses aren’t yet hard to find, future and sustainable supply isn’t yet secure. Farmers and those who depend on them are still poor and competing for scarce resources. But certification has proven an efficient tool for increasing yields and multiplying farmers’ incomes, putting more farms and livelihoods on a sustainable footing.
Globally, we’re facing rising food demand as the population heads to 10 billion by mid-century and emerging economies eat higher on the food chain. To meet this demand, the global food system must do what Côte d’Ivoire is now doing: working with stakeholders to raise yields on existing farmland sustainably, without clearing more forests, degrading more grazing land or exacerbating climate change and biodiversity loss. Rainforest Alliance certification offers a body of evidence that argues this can be done, and is being done, by adopting environmentally and socially sustainable farming practices that help local ecosystems and communities thrive together.