Sweet, Sustainable Forces of Change
By Mary Ellen Kuhn
It’s neither simple nor easy, but World Cocoa Foundation initiatives are delivering improvements in cocoa farming conditions.
It’s been more than six years since a BBC documentary and follow-up media coverage grabbed the public’s attention with disturbing charges of child slavery on Africa’s C’ote d’Ivoire cocoa farms.
Vicki Walker, a program director with the U.S.-based development agency Winrock International, was in West Africa at the time, working in the country of Mali on education programs for women and girls. She heard the news stories at about the same time as the rest of the world, but she was already well aware of a host of social and economic problems in West Africa — poverty, poor agricultural practices and lack of education, as well as child labor issues.
The problem of child labor –- like the others — is complex, and Walker believes that addressing it requires a multi-faceted approach. “There are so many different ways of talking about child labor,” Walker reflects. “There’s forced child labor. There’s trafficking [transporting children to exploitative situations]. Then there are certain types of child work that are acceptable — children who work next to their families doing non-hazardous work.
“You don’t just look at one part of it,” says Walker. “You work with families in a holistic approach.” Today Winrock operates one of several West African projects funded by the chocolate- and cocoa industry-supported World Cocoa Foundation (WCF). Like Winrock, WCF has taken a multi-faceted, long-term approach to developing programs to address the complex web of social and environmental challenges cocoa farmers face. There are no quick and easy fixes, stresses Bill Guyton, WCF president.
“One of the problems we’ve had is that, in a sound bite, it’s hard to explain,” says Guyton, describing WCF’s newest initiative, Healthy Communities.
Here’s an update on some of the WCF-supported programs that have already begun to make a difference in many different aspects of cocoa farmers’ lives.
Healthy Communities. Announced by WCF this fall, this effort will build on the Farmer Field School model that WCF, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other partners have successfully pilot tested in West African cocoa-growing communities over the past several years.
Among other things, Farmer Field Schools have developed successful interventions for crop disease and pest problems, introduced improved farming techniques and assisted farmers in forming co-operatives to market their crops collectively. There’s a public health component as well; HIV/AIDS awareness and malaria prevention training are offered. West African farmers who have participated in the pilot programs have seen their incomes increase by 20 percent to 55 percent, Guyton reports.
When families increase their incomes, they’re better able to pay school fees, points out Karl Walk of Blommer Chocolate Company, co-vice-chair for WCF. “It’s improving their overall livelihood, which we believe will show that the farm lifestyle is something that can be sustained.”
Walk adds that another benefit of the Field Schools is the fact that they bring together formerly isolated farmers. Frequently after completing the program, groups of farmers have banded together in cooperatives to sell their cocoa, thus commanding a better price for it.
About 150,000 West African farmers are expected to benefit from the Healthy Communities program between 2007 and 2011.
Healthy Communities is sponsored by WCF with additional grants from ADM Cocoa, Blommer, Cadbury, The Hershey Company, Ferrero, Kraft, Mars Inc., and Nestlé.
CLASSE. The acronym stands for Child Labor Alternatives through Sustainable Systems in Education. This WCF-supported program is operated in the C’ote d’Ivoire by Winrock, a group whose roots extend to the 1950s, when it was established by Winthrop Rockefeller to provide agricultural training and rural development programs for Arkansas farmers. In subsequent years, it merged with other groups, and the focus has broadened.
The CLASSE project on the Cote d’Ivoire has a strong agricultural core.
A CLASSE field agent works closely with the Ministry of Education on a variety of innovative vocational educational programs, teaching classes in subjects such as plant biology and agricultural techniques. Three communities have planted small cocoa nurseries and gardens, and the produce from the gardens is used to enrich lunches served at the school canteens. A credit program helps provide families whose children stay in school with funds that they can put back into their own farms. Health and HIV/AIDS education are also important components in the training provided by the field agent.
“To date,” says Walker, “more than 1,000 children at least are receiving direct agricultural training. And many, many more — it’s difficult to measure the number — have been made more aware.”
The CLASSE program is managed by Winrock with funding from Mars Inc., and the Norwegian Association of Chocolate Manufacturers.
Solar Dryer Project. In Ecuador, Blommer partnered with a South American conservation group on an effort that is beautiful in its simplicity and its productivity, says Walk.
Easily constructed solar dryers — which resemble greenhouses — are yielding better quality cocoa and improving farmers’ productivity. Without the dryers, Walk explains, cocoa farmers must simply lay their product out on the ground to dry — a process that is interrupted whenever it rains. At that point, the farmer must rush to cover the crop, wait until the rain stops, and then lay it out again. It’s time-consuming, and the cocoa often gets moldy in the process, reducing its value.
“We were told by one of the first farmers that received a dryer that, because they were able to dry their cocoa properly, the price they received for it was double,” says Walk.
The goal of the project is for Blommer and the conservation group, Conservacion De Sarrollo, to build 500 dryers in the next two years.
Patience + partnerships produce progress
“I see really exciting things happening on several levels,” says Guyton. He’s proud of what WCF has achieved since it was established in 2000 with seven multi-national corporations as the initial members. Now there are 57 members, representing companies of all different sizes.
Timothy Moley is president of one of the smaller member companies, Boulder, Colo.-based Chocolove. He offers this summation of the organization’s efforts. “We as an industry have stepped up and said, ‘The wellbeing of everybody in the trade is important to us,’” says Moley.
Chocolate manufacturers — and ultimately the consumer — will benefit at well, Walk adds. “I think the overall impact to the consumer will be a better quality product from sustainable sources,” he observes.
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