Cocoa is one of the world’s most savoured products, mainly in the form of chocolate. Chocolate is something we all love – we reach for it in times of celebration and joy, stress and sadness, and just to sweeten our day. This simple pleasure, though, has complex and harsh consequences for those who produce cocoa.
The journey from bean to chocolate bar begins on the farm. Worldwide, over 4 million metric tonnes of cocoa are produced annually, with Ivory Coast and Ghana accounting for over half of the world’s total output. Many farmers work on small plots of land, with farmers from the Ivory Coast producing cocoa on 1-3 hectares plots.
Cocoa beans are harvested by hand-picking mature pods from cocoa trees. The pods, which can contain as many as 50 beans, are then carefully opened. The beans are removed from the pulp and left in piles covered by banana leaves to be heated by the sun. They are dried, bagged, and then shipped to manufacturers.
Between 400-600 cocoa beans are needed to make 1 kilogram of chocolate. During the manufacturing process the cocoa beans are transformed into the chocolate bar. At the factory, beans undergo cleaning, roasting, grinding, moulding, and other processes. Depending on the type of chocolate desired—white, dark, or milk— different ingredients are blended.
Dark chocolate, which is enjoying increasingly larger shares of the chocolate market, is made by mixing sugar, cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, and occasionally vanilla. Chocolate manufacturers often have their own special chocolate blends, further offering variations on basic chocolate production formulas.
After production, beans and chocolate are stored and shipped to stores all over the world. Ivory Coast and Ghana may be the world’s largest producers, but the largest cocoa bean importers are the Netherlands and the United States, followed by Germany, Malaysia, Belgium, and France.
The majority of cocoa produced by farmers in the Ivory Coast and Ghana finds its way onto grocery store shelves in the Netherlands, the United States, Malaysia, and Japan. 45% of all chocolate is purchased here, while another 27% is broken off in smaller grocery stores, making chocolate a regular part of diets around the globe.
Breaking the poverty cycle
Smallholders produce 95% of all cocoa, usually on plots between 1-3 hectares. Many of these smallholders live in West Africa, which produces 70% of the world’s cocoa. Millions of farmers depend on cocoa to make a living, only to be faced with unproductive fields, being unable to turn their product into sustenance.
The smallholders and producer organisations involved in cocoa production suffer from a lack of knowledge when it comes to agricultural practices. Producers cannot easily access training, inputs, markets, or financing. This leads to either a complete lack of inputs or a misuse of what inputs can be obtained. This results in low, poor quality yields.
Women, working alongside children and other family members, must often complete household duties in addition to working in the fields. Men generally occupy the highest paying jobs, which are also the most physically demanding, with women facing this wage and occupational discrimination. Although it is not uncommon for women who head households in West Africa to grow cocoa, they are often left out of farmer cooperatives and organisations.
In places like Ghana, where low yields are acute, after experiencing growing up poor and seeing their parents struggle to make ends meet, youth are increasingly choosing not to take up cocoa farming. Given all the human costs of cocoa production, the next generation is leaving cocoa production in great numbers and opting to grow more profitable crops or move to the city.
Cycles of destruction
Cocoa is produced in some of the world’s most vibrant environments that flourish with biodiversity. One of the strengths of cocoa is that it can actually help conserve this biodiversity, provided it’s produced sustainably. But it’s often not.
In the quest to satiate our hunger for chocolate and other cocoa products, forests are cleared to make room for cocoa farms, reducing the biodiversity of the very ecosystems farms depend on to survive. A reduction in biodiversity lowers the amount of nutrients in the soil, which in turn reduces yields. The result of this is usually more deforestation to gain access to more fertile soil.
Contributing towards climate change is another effect of current cocoa production practices. Often forests are cleared in Central Africa to make way for agricultural production. This affects the climate of West Africa because the Central African forests incubate the weather systems that cover West Africa with rain. When there is less rain, there is less cocoa because rainfall is the most important climatic factor in cocoa production.
In 2019, through our bean-to-bar partnership with Case Lasevicius, three tonness of the cocoa were sold at an average price of 25 Brazilian reals (5 euros) per kg, generating a gross income of 75,000 reals (15,000 euros) for eight producers in the project. In Nicaragua, Solidaridad worked with BICU University to develop the first agroforestry cocoa diploma, giving priority participation to women and youth, while n Honduras, members of the national network of women in cocoa and chocolate learned to process and market cocoa products, leading to the launch of several women-led enterprises.
In West Africa, we helped establish the first roundtable to secure favourable land tenure arrangements for cocoa farmers in Ghana, and supported 1,600 youth to establish 789 hectares of cocoa farms. Through Ghana’s COCOBOD, lessons were shared with rural service centres to drive service delivery by small and growing businesses, and in Liberia and Sierra Leone, we contributed to national cocoa platforms as well as policy and regulatory arrangements for the sector.
Across our cocoa programmes, we helped improve farmer-level productivity. For example, in Liberia, farmers planted 382,000 hybrid cocoa seedlings on newly established farms translating to 45,000 hectares of land. In Cote d’Ivoire, we supported the set up of 393 Village Savings and Loans Associations with a membership of 8,150 (94% women). The aim is to empower women, develop a savings culture and facilitate access to affordable finance for women cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire.
Solidaridad took significant steps for the cocoa sector in 2017, especially in West Africa. It engaged public and private organizations to secure co-funding to upscale activities, enable new businesses and enhance environmental governance. Solidaridad also designed a climate-smart business case for cocoa producers and enhanced multi-stakeholder platforms in order to promote landscape governance and influence public and private policies to reduce deforestation.
Solidaridad focused on supporting innovations that placed women and youth at the heart of business development. Programmes included giving tailor-made entrepreneurship and life-skills training, modeling viable business opportunities to prove profitability and making the case for impact investment. Activities were aimed at supporting the development of a thriving professionalized cocoa sector for the future. Solidaridad took concrete steps to support climate-smart cocoa production through the development and testing of low carbon balance tools.
Solidaridad aims to address the problem of low youth participation in the cocoa supply chain by combining business and life skills training for young entrepreneurs so they can maintain thriving cocoa farms and businesses.
For the Love of Chocolate, a multimedia exhibition in The National Maritime Museum Amsterdam, attracted 35,000 visitors and major attention from the press. Nico Roozen spoke at the World Cocoa Conference 2014 and shared the message that certification alone is not enough.
The ‘For the Love of Chocolate’ documentary with the National Geographic Channel boosted awareness of Solidaridad’s cocoa programme.
Solidaridad and Cargill commissioned external impact assessments in Ghana and Ivory Coast. An external impact assessment by KPMG indicated the following results from the start of the CIP programme: 151,000 farmers trained and certified, producing over 414,000 tonnes of certified cocoa, and sharp increase of both public and private investments in cocoa.
Together with the Dutch Embassy in Ghana, Solidaridad West Africa and partners developed the 'Cocoa Rehabilitation and Intensification Programme (CORIP) – Ghana'. Privately run Rural Service Centres (RSCs) will be set up providing training, information, inputs and other technical support for improved cocoa production.
Solidaridad cocoa programme investments climbed to 3.5 million EUR.
Post-election civil war in Ivory Coast posed a major setback for the cocoa sector and the Solidaridad cocoa programme. In Ghana and Nigeria, Solidaridad organised national stakeholder forums including farmers, business, and government representatives.
‘For the Love of Chocolate’ campaign with Mars Nederland began. Annual programme investments exceeded 1 million EUR, Solidaridad’s Farmer Support Programme reached 40,000 farmers; and Solidaridad also set up training teams in Nigeria, Cameroon, Ecuador, and Brazil.
The Dutch Minister of Development Cooperation welcomed the first UTZ Certified cocoa at the Amsterdam cocoa harbour. Mars was the first big company to announce their intention to use 100% certified cocoa by 2020.
Solidaridad's joint Cocoa Improvement Program (CIP) 2008-2012 began to scale up the production of sustainable cocoa in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Cameroon, Brasil, Peru, Indonesia and Vietnam and Peru. Private sector partners, amongst others, included: Cargill, ECOM, Mars, Nestlé, Ahold, Heinz, Oxfam Novib, and WWF.
Solidaridad initiated its cocoa programme, focused on mainstreaming sustainable cocoa.
Since the start of our programme in 2007, significant progress has been made at the farmer level. However more needs to be done to make a real difference; many farmers still don’t see a future in cocoa farming.
Farmers with knowledge and skills – and access to credit and fertiliser – are three times as productive as their colleagues. This is not only good for farmers; it means that companies can also rely on a steady supply of good cocoa.
The cocoa sector contributes to the living and working conditions of farmers, farm workers and their families. Training farmers has resulted in a 28% increase in income in Ivory Coast and a 13% increase in Ghana. This has resulted in increased household security, with more money being spent on food, clothing, and education. Farmers in our programmes are organised, skilled and entrepreneurial. High yielding cocoa production systems enhance ecosystem services and improve local food security.
Female farmers have also benefitted from our programmes. In Ivory Coast, self-help groups where 600 women were trained on safe pesticide use, HIV/AIDS, water and sanitation use, and malaria prevention were organised. 30 women have also begun their own cocoa nurseries, selling 130,000 seedlings to achieve financial independence.
"I am a member of the cooperative and learned in training programmes. As a result, my yields are high, I have more income and I'm teaching other farmers now."
Enan Abblé Cocoa farmer Kragui, Ivorycoast
Engaging businesses and goverments
Companies and governments are an integral part of sustainability in the cocoa industry. These entities can assist in increasing access, availability and affordability of inputs, knowledge and credit for sustainable cocoa.
For years, governments, companies and Solidaridad have been investing in improving cocoa production. Thanks to public-private cooperation, about 20% of the 2.5 million cocoa farmers in West Africa now receive support with training and access to support.
Our Cocoa Improvement Programme has resulted in around 151,000 farmers being UTZ certified from 2008-2012. Here, as in all of our programmes, certification was used as a tool towards sustainability in combination with knowledge and local capacity building.
In Ghana, a programme driven by a public-private platform, and financed by the Dutch government, focuses on new delivery models. These Rural Service Delivery Centers centre on training, inputs and credit with a special emphasis on rehabilitation and intensification, all of which are necessary for long-term sustainability.
We also seek to involve industry participants in innovative ways. From 2013-2014, we ran a multimedia exhibit, ‘For the Love of Chocolate’, that shows the cocoa production process and how it can be improved.
This is how we help cocoa become sustainable.
Agricultural services for farmers — youth to the rescue
Under the Cocoa Rehabilitation and Intensification Programme, Osei Kwame is changing the game for cocoa farmers in the Brong Ahafo region of Ghana. His Rural Service Centre provides much needed production and marketing services for smallholder cocoa farmers.
Bridging the gap: land tenure security and sustainable cocoa production
Stakeholders from Ghana’s cocoa sector came together to negotiate changes to land tenure practices that will support better cocoa farming practices, as part of the Advocacy for Change for Sustainable Cocoa Landscapes initiative.
Gender Integration in Youth Focused Programmes
The 2019 Gender Learning Survey of the Next Generation Cocoa Youth programme (MASO) highlights how women are now actively pursuing career goals in cocoa, which has improved incomes and savings, and contributed to overall household nutrition and well-being.
Bringing agricultural services closer to farmers in Sierra Leone
Cocoa is a critical crop in Sierra Leone and has the potential to generate significant livelihood opportunities for smallholder farmers, when they can access needed services to boost sustainable practices and competitiveness. The Farmer Support Centres strive to fill this gap in access, providing a one-stop-shop for farmer services.
Savings and loan schemes empower women in cocoa-producing communities
Over 6,000 women in cocoa-growing communities in Côte d’Ivoire have been empowered to improve their living conditions and that of their families through Village Savings and Loan schemes.
Enhancing farmer entrepreneurship in cocoa
Should sustainability policies focus on providing farmers a living income or improving conditions in cocoa farming? Can we improve farmer income without improving farmer entrepreneurship? These were top concerns in the panel on farmer entrepreneurship, held at the eighth Chocoa Conference in Amsterdam, one of the biggest events of the cocoa sector worldwide.