Creating a sustainable chocolate industry
A BCCCA case study

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Page 3: Working towards sustainability

A sustainable business is one, which is committed to helping meet the needs of society today, while respecting the needs of future generations. In promoting 'sustainability', the chocolate industry wants to see growth and improvement in:

  • the quantity and quality of the product
  • the standard of living enjoyed by growers.

Both of these contribute to a healthy cocoa industry from which all involved can benefit.

Chocolate manufacturers have a key role to play in this process by seeking to ensure that:

  • Demand is sustainable by working to improve chocolate quality and through marketing activities.
  • Supply is sustainable by helping growers receive a fair price and increase cocoa yields.

Chocolate manufacturers work to ensure the quality and reputation of chocolate products. They use market research and other marketing techniques to meet customers' demands for an increasing variety of products. Manufacturers constantly introduce new chocolate products, e.g. ice cream chocolate bars, ready-made desserts.

At the same time, chocolate manufacturers work in partnership with growers and with the cocoa-producing countries to empower the grower. Current projects include:

  • providing market information processes, such as information on world cocoa prices and timing of sales
  • supporting growers in developing better farming techniques and practices.

To maintain a sustainable industry, it is vital to be fair to the grower, the first link in the chain. Fairness involves encouraging a reasonable living for growers and their families.  More than 10 million people live on cocoa farms in parts of the world that offer a warm, wet environment which is ideal for growing cocoa. These lie in a band near the equator.

Cocoa is a very important industry for some countries. For example, in the Cote d'lvoire, the world's largest grower of cocoa beans, cocoa growing provides over 50 of total household income. Almost all the farms are small.  Typically, farms consist of a smallholding of cocoa plants, which are surrounded by other types of tropical trees that provide the necessary shade.

Cocoa production is not suitable for a large scale, exclusive approach. This is because a monoculture runs too high a risk of spreading disease that could wipe out the industry. By promoting biodiversity, cocoa growing contributes to the global environment and to local development.

Chocolate manufacturers support fair prices for growers. A market which operates on the basis of very low prices for cocoa, puts at risk the sustainability of cocoa growing. This is because most cocoa producers have some choice over what they grow. For example, a cocoa farmer who cannot make a living from growing cocoa may switch to producing palm oil.

So, the chocolate industry worldwide supports several initiatives aimed at achieving better prices for cocoa growers.

These include:

  • Market information systems. Unlike many other crops, growers are able to store mature cocoa beans for up to a month. As a result, the grower does not necessarily have to sell to the first potential buyer. However, small farmers in remote areas of the Cote d'lvoire find themselves at a disadvantage compared with other growers. Because of their remote location they will have fewer opportunities available to them. They usually do not have Internet access and often lack key market information. The chocolate industry is providing data on current market prices to growers through Field Training Officers, and via newsletters. Armed with this data, together with advice and training, the grower is better placed to negotiate a fair trading price.
  • Research. When cocoa growers produce a better yield of high quality cocoa beans, everyone benefits. The chocolate industry funds research into improving agricultural techniques and approaches. This has provided treatments for cocoa plant pests and diseases such as the Cocoa Pod Borer. Without support, farming families can lose well over a third of their crops each year from disease and pests.
  • Training. The industry also funds a range of Field Schools for cocoa growers in Africa. These schools show farmers how to improve their production methods. This includes pruning dead cocoa pods; weeding around plants; planting suitable native trees alongside their cocoa. The schools cover other vital aspects too e.g. business management techniques; fair and proper treatment of workers.

BCCCA | Creating a sustainable chocolate industry