Cultivating sustainable cocoa through farmers' cooperatives

Taco Terheijden
Taco Terheijden
Sustainable Cocoa Manager
Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate

About 70% of the world's cocoa is grown in West Africa, in environments that challenge farmers in the best of circumstances. In these Cocoa Belt regions, roads and the general infrastructure are poor, and cars and trucks are expensive to maintain. Access to fresh water and health care is limited, education is hard to come by and financial systems largely absent.

This environment is challenging for cocoa farmers – and consequently influences the future supply of cocoa beans. Through its sustainable cocoa program, Cargill works to improve the lives of farmers and their families, helping to secure the long-term sustainability of cocoa production.  Through Cargill's financial support, farmers' organizations and cooperatives help cocoa farmers plan for the future, provide financial services, share best practices, and often offer a range of community services.

Well-run farmers’ organizations serve several purposes. As transparent, not-for-profit organizations, they are reliable sources of market prices and other types of information.  Farmers' cooperatives can also act as a bank—often the only one in the area—for members, allowing farmers to invest and work towards future growth. Cooperatives support communities in other ways such as by operating a school bus to ensure transportation to schools or by maintaining an ambulance to improve access to health care.

Extensive training programs and social support projects that operate as part of the Cargill sustainable cocoa program are being expanded in the most important cocoa-growing countries, including the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ghana, Brazil, Vietnam and Indonesia.

For instance, during intensive courses of half- and full-day sessions over 4 years, farmers learn about best agricultural techniques in the care of cocoa trees, including pruning techniques, regeneration measures and disease prevention and control; fermentation and drying of cocoa beans; bookkeeping; personal health; and social issues.

During the 2011/2012 crop year, approximately 26,500 cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast, across 43 UTZ and Rainforest Alliance certified cooperatives, have received Cargill’s sustainable cocoa premiums payments totalling  $7.6 million – the highest ever pay-out for farmers in the region. Over half of the payments go directly to farmers according to the volume of beans they have sold, and the remainder is invested by the cooperatives to support their members and communities.

Further, this year, Cargill’s farmer training programs aim to reach 60,000 Ivorian farmers through 1,100 farmer field schools, which will enable the number of cooperatives with independent certification to increase to about 90. Cargill is working towards its target of 100,000 metric tonnes (110,230 tons) of certified sustainable cocoa beans from the Ivory Coast by 2015.

As a result of these programs, farmers are more successful, producing better-quality cocoa beans and higher yields. The training also makes the farmers eligible for sustainable certification and, by extension, an additional premium.

The cocoa beans are processed into high-quality certified cocoa and chocolate ingredients in Cargill’s plants. Through the Cargill sustainable cocoa program, our customers support cooperatives by funding training programs or social projects and buying certified cocoa and chocolate ingredients. 

For Cargill, sustainability isn't a secondary, "side" issue. By working with farmers in the world's cocoa-producing regions, we're not only safeguarding the cocoa supply chain, we're supporting environmental stewardship and the farmers who make it all possible. That's not just our global cocoa bean sourcing strategy; it's our business.

Taco Terheijden is sustainable cocoa manager with Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate.