It’s been a long journey to and from Cote d’Ivoire, known to some as the Ivory Coast. Having just completed the final leg of a four-day Barry Callebaut press tour featuring 10 journalists, I wanted to share my experiences and thoughts on an incredible journey.
Most of the press group arrived in Abidjan this past Monday evening. From that point, it was a whirlwind, getting to know the cocoa farmers up close and personal while witnessing the efforts of Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest cocoa and chocolate processor, to eradicate child labor from its supply chain while helping farmers improve yields and livelihoods. In doing so, the company aims to preserve Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa legacy for future generations.
It’s hard to compress everything I’ve seen so far into a column — complete coverage of the trip will be featured in our February issue — but I’ll try to set the scene with a few vignettes. First, there’s our bus driving us past dozens of open-air markets lining both sides of the road as we left Abidjan toward Toumodi. Vendors were offering fresh fruits, various other food and drink items and, at times, just about anything you’d ever need.
Another scene pops into mind. In the village of Assinzé, there’s the chief taking a bottle of schnapps — a gift from Barry Callebaut as a way of recognizing his hospitality — and then pouring it into the ground to appease the village’s ancestors and have them welcome the foreigners.
Shortly thereafter the village chief presents Nicko Debenham, v.p. of global cocoa sustainability and managing director of Biolands, with his gift, a live ram. And I can’t forget our visit to a farmer training school where we witnessed the art of pruning a cocoa tree as well as enjoyed a sip of palm oil wine.
Oh yeah, there’s the dance welcome provided for our group from the village of Seman, where a Cocoa Horizons truck played a video and displayed posters regarding child labor abuses. There are several other notable vignettes, from seeing school children welcome us in their classrooms to simply sharing stories and insights with Barry Callebaut’s top managers and field staff. But that’s later on.
Let’s get back to the real purpose of the trip, which focuses on cocoa sustainability, and more — much more. Here are some facts to put everything into context.
Cote d’Ivoire, which has a population of 24 million, remains an agrarian society, with farming comprising nearly 70 percent of the economy; industry and services the remainder. About 42 percent of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day.
It’s also has had its share of political turmoil. Although its second civil war in the Cote d’Ivoire this decade ended in 2011 with a cease fire, a relatively stable peace didn’t really arrive until the recent elections of 2015.
And now back to the real essence of the trip: child labor and farmer poverty. If any one of you had the opportunity to visit a local school, be it at home or abroad, you know what kind of a thrill it is to look at all those young faces just brimming with potential and risk.
Assinzé, our first stop on Tuesday, has the privilege of having two schools, both handling primary grades from the first to the sixth level. There are about 300 children attending school from September through July. Matriculation through all six levels is in the 90 percent-plus level.
Since 2015, the government has made going to school mandatory for all children in Cote d’Ivoire. But as we all well know, passing a law doesn’t necessarily mean it immediately takes full effect. Nor does its impact change a country overnight.
As Andres Tschannen, operations manager – global cocoa sustainability for Barry Callebaut AG, explained to the press group, child labor stems from two key factors: the tradition of farming, and poverty.
“Our aim is to eradicate child labor,” he says. Given that poverty is one of the root causes, the company recognizes it’s critical to raise farmers out of poverty, a commitment that’s a long-term project.
On Wednesday, at the Hotel President in Yamassourko, Debenham revealed to the group the implementation of the company’s Forever Chocolate strategy, which officially debuted this past Monday.
The company is targeting 100 percent sustainable chocolate by 2025. In doing so, it has set four ambitious targets:
• eradicate child labor from its supply chain
• lift more than 500,0000 cocoa farmers out of poverty
• be carbon- and forest-positive
• have 100 percent sustainable ingredients in all its products.
As he went on to explain, this movement looks to “make sustainable chocolate the norm.”
This is a major commitment from the world’s largest cocoa and chocolate supplier. But as Antoine de Saint-Affrique, Barry Callebaut’s ceo, says, “We have been pioneering sustainability in cocoa and chocolate for many years, and we have made great progress. But despite all our efforts, only 23 percent of the cocoa beans we source are from sustainability programs. We are determined to step change this and have 100 percent of our chocolate and its ingredients sustainably sourced by 2025.”
This commitment builds on a body of work that started many years ago. The repercussions are enormous, as are the challenges. Our group of journalists witnessed first-hand what it means to be a cocoa farmer as well as the resources necessary to meet this goal. It’s not for the faint-hearted.
You need “boots on the ground,” from trainers to village coordinators, from field agents to agronomists, from data collectors to visionary executives, directors and managers. The sheer numbers alone indicate this won’t be easy. Yet, it’s in everyone’s best interests and something we can all support by acclamation. And we all agree it is time.