WEST AFRICA – The cocoa sector has yet again been dissected and left open on the operating table to fight for its life, as the Voice Network sheds light on the status of the sector on an independent publication that provides an overview of current sustainability developments in the cocoa sector and highlights critical issues.

The report starts with a rhetorical question stating, “After two decades of discussions on sustainability in the cocoa sector, the question rises why haven’t we solved these problems yet?

“Indeed, it sometimes feels as if every two years the Cocoa Barometer writes about the same issues. In fact, additional challenges have been added over the years.”

Meant to be a sober reading for the industry, the report highlights that the sector is still plagued with the issues of deforestation and loss of biodiversity through use of agrochemicals, driven by the pursuit of increasing production, causing both environmental damage and is hazardous to those applying them.

Child labour also continues to be a challenge in West African cocoa production, where children are involved in age-inappropriate and hazardous labour, coupled with gender inequality raising barriers for women, both as rightsholders and as agents for change.

This happens despite chocolate companies and suppliers pumping millions of money to ensure sustainable production and achieve almost full traceability and transparency in their supply chains to boost yield in hope of tackling worsening farmers poverty.

“The two branches of the cocoa problem tree – environmental protection and human rights – both stand on a tree trunk of farmer poverty. This poverty is exacerbated by the current cost-of-living crisis,” highlights the report.

The report indicates that the favoured approach so far of raising farmer poverty are not going to bridge the income gap stating that higher yields do not necessarily lead to increased net income but lead to greater risks for farmers.

“Without significantly higher farm gate prices, sustainability in the cocoa sector is a pipe dream,” states the report.

Raising income is the way to go – industry beckons

Living income as a concept has become a key objective for the cocoa sector in the past few years, however it hasn’t changed core business activities so far.

The Ivorian-Ghanaian government collaboration to drive up market prices is an important step, but so far farm gate prices are nowhere near remunerable.

Shedding light to the situation the reports highlights, “Too often, sustainability decisions are made far from the reality of cocoa growers. Decisions are made by those in power, ensuring that these decisions are in line with their interests.

“As such, decades of calls for higher prices have so far not been answered. Instead, approaches have been pursued focussing on what the farmer needs to do differently, such as higher yields and diversified production.”

To this end the writer calls for real change in order for cocoa to truly become sustainable – where cocoa farming households are able to earn a living income, where nature is protected and flourishing, and where all rights (including those of children, women, and other marginalised groups) are safeguarded.

In that light, the development of supply chain legislation in cocoa consuming nations is a very positive development, although their level ambition as well as the way they will be implemented will determine whether they will have the desired outcome.

“The sector change that is needed cannot just come through better farming; a key approach needs to be to look at the enabling environment of the cocoa sector.

“Systemic changes and improvement are necessary in governance policies and in purchasing practices. Only when these are in place is there a business case for thriving farmers,” states the report.

The Managing Director of Voice Network, Antonie Fountain, believes consumers are pivotal in effecting the change desired by all stakeholders.

“I think to the consumers … demand chocolate that has actually paid a fair price to cocoa farmers. Now what chocolate that is, is a lot harder to find. I think that there’s a lot of misinformation and a lot of very nice marketing that goes into this conversation,” Antonie said in an interview with Confectionery News.

Antonie recommended, “We need to stop talking about our programmes and we need to start talking about our purchasing. It’s as simple as that and there’s a very big message to the governments as well.

“We need strong regulation in consuming countries, but we need a lot more transparency as well as investment in infrastructure in the producer countries.”

Weighing in on the Cocoa report, the Executive Secretary of Cote d’Ivoire-Ghana Cocoa Initiative, Alex Assanvo agrees, while welcome, the sustainability programmes are not driving the right impact.

Assanvo according to reports by Cocoa Post observed that despite the good efforts, too many farmers are still living below the poverty line.

“The recent global economic crisis has worsened this situation. Production costs of the commodities we produce for the EU markets have skyrocketed, but the price of the commodities we sell has not risen accordingly. Paradoxically, we are being paid less than ever,” he stated.

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