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‘Boots on the ground’: Sustainability starts with farmers

February 19, 2014
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Sustainability. That seems to be the answer to recent concerns about the pending shortage of cocoa in 2020. About a million tons short according to most reports. This, of course, presents a looming problem for chocolate manufacturers, not to mention present and future consumers.

Sustainability, however, has been an issue for cocoa farmers long before the word became cool in corporate speak. For the hundreds of thousands of cocoa farmers, sustaining a living was…and continues to be…a challenge.

Bernie Pacyniak

It’s really, really important to remember that addressing the cocoa supply/demand challenge must focus on the farmer first; otherwise all the monies directed to ensuring cocoa and chocolate for the future is being badly misdirected.

During the ISM show in Cologne this year, I had the opportunity to attend Barry Callebaut’s presentation on their cocoa sustainability initiatives. As can be expected, the world’s largest cocoa and chocolate processing company put on a slick show.

It also unveiled its Cocoa Horizons Truck concept, a multi-purpose unit that’s powered by solar energy and provides space for farmer training session, basic health care services, literacy training and child labor sensitivity programs.

It reflects the company’s “plan to significantly step up the impact and reach of its Quality Partner Program, which is a key element of the company’s Cocoa Horizons sustainability initiative. Consider it a mobile “Deus ex machina,” that can drop in virtually from nowhere and make a significant contribution to farmers living in remote and isolated villages.

The truck’s impact was really brought home by Solange N’Guessan, manager of the Union of Farming Cooperatives of San Pedro (UCAS), which presents 7,000 cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast who deliver 10,000 tons of beans annually.

N’Guessan, who provided a farmer’s perspective to the Barry Callebaut presentation, didn’t mince words about farmer needs and solutions. It’s clear that the Farmer Field Schools work, but it takes time to see the results.

Moreover, despite Barry Callebaut having established 12 model farms and 575 farmer field schools, there’s many more farmers who still haven’t been touched by these programs. And that’s why the “le camion cacao” provides yet another valuable tool in getting the messages out to the farmer.

As N’Guessan explained, “The truck goes out into the community, allowing farmers to gather in the evening.”  Together, they can listen to not only ways to improve cocoa quality and yields, but also to music. “It’s the African way of learning, of expressing joy.”

Grateful for the support Barry Callebaut has given to UCAS, N’Guessan wasn’t shy in asking when another “camion de cacao” would be forthcoming. In this instance, the phrase “boots on the ground” really meant more “wheels on the ground.”

So kudos to Barry Callebaut for developing their Cocoa Horizons truck, as well as an appeal for them to not only consider outfitting more, but to share their learnings with others who have similar sustainability programs going on.

A quick qualifier before I sign off; let’s remember there are plenty of other companies looking at ways to help cocoa farmers. Sometimes, as in Cemoi’s case, it involves projects such as drilling water wells. And it was good to see Yildiz Holdings join the Processors Alliance for Cocoa Traceability and Sustainability PACTS group (that’s the alliance formed by Cemoi, Blommer and Petra Food) as a sponsor, specifically investing in eight water wells projects.

In other instances, such as our upcoming March cover story on ICAM in Candy Industry relates, it involves a life’s work of a single individual that’s supported by a family business. I’m talking about Angelo Agostoni, chairman and president of ICAM, who for 45 years has had his “boots on the ground” with farmers, helping them improve cocoa quality and yield.

As we all well know, the challenge involving cocoa farming is enormous. But if we address it correctly, farmer by farmer, there’s a flavorful future ahead for all. 

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