IVORY COAST – Fairtrade, Ivorian cocoa and coffee cooperative ECOOKIM, and multinational confectionery manufacturer Mars have joined forces to launch the Livelihoods Ecosystem Advancement Program in Ivory Coast to support the country’s smallholder farmers tackle income inequities.

In what is deemed could be one of the industry’s most comprehensive efforts to date designed to address persistent barriers to cocoa farmers’ ability to achieve a living income, the initiative seeks to apply key learnings from other programs.

With backing from the Conseil du Café Cacao (CCC) and the Ivoirian Ministry of Agriculture, the program targets to support 5,000 smallholder farmers in the world’s leading cocoa-producing region on a path to a living income by 2030.

The findings from the initiative will be used to create a blueprint of interventions that can be scaled across the cocoa supply chain.

Speaking at the launch, ECOOKIM Head of Sustainability Aminata Bamba said, “This program takes a holistic approach and seeks to address all elements necessary for a Living Income, rather than treating them in isolation or searching for ‘silver bullets’.

“Farmers may know best what needs to be done to improve their crops and their livelihoods but might not have the market support to make those changes.”

In this new effort, the partners are working to help remove the obstacles in their path, particularly the lack of access to finance and the need to adapt to climate change.

This initiative will also focus on strengthening farmer cooperatives and market access, diversifying their incomes so as to lessen dependent on cocoa, and expanding financial services like savings and loans, and mobile banking, so farmers can invest in their farms and their futures.

Mars Director for Public Affairs West Africa, Anne-Marie Yao said, “Our goal of creating a more inclusive, modern, and sustainable cocoa supply chain can only be achieved if farmers are fairly rewarded for their crucial role in producing the cocoa used in beloved chocolate brands.

“That’s why we developed our Cocoa for Generations strategy and it’s why today we’re working with Fairtrade and ECOOKIM to develop an ambitious blueprint that may be scaled to enhance farm resilience and support cocoa farmers on a path to a living income.”

Most cocoa today is grown on small family farms with little access to electricity, clean water, reliable roads, or quality schools.

Compounding these challenges are adverse effects of climate change and persistent market failures, such as disconnection from formal financial systems, underdeveloped cooperative management practices, and lack of alternative income sources to offset market volatility.

These obstacles can leave cocoa farmers in poverty, unable to invest in or grow their businesses due to factors beyond their control.

Despite past industry attempts to improve farmer livelihoods, the unfortunate reality is that smallholder farmer poverty has not been eradicated.

The Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, M. Kobenan Kouassi Adjoumani said “I am particularly impressed with this approach, which seeks to be holistic and combine best practice interventions to achieve a living income

“I particularly appreciate that the partners are committed to learning together alongside growers to understand what works best for them and their households.”

By learning out loud and engaging others in the effort, the aim is to forge new approaches that can raise industry standards.

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