Poverty in the Cocoa Industry
Tony’s Chocolonely, a chocolate company in the Netherlands, emerged in 2005. When police arrested a journalist by the name of Teun van de Keuken, he asked to go to prison. He hired a lawyer to help send him to prison and asked a judge to convict him of driving child slavery. However, the judge would not convict him, stating that his crime was simply eating a bar of chocolate. Keuken was not satisfied with this decision and ventured to create a chocolate company that would both combat child labor and poverty in the cocoa industry.

A Better Idea

Instead, Keuken decided to try to stop child slavery from the inside. He wanted to do this by setting up a chocolate company with the mission of ending child slavery in general by fighting poverty in the cocoa industry. Since 2005, the company has grown, and with it, so have its missions. The brand is now the Netherlands’ favorite chocolate company and it has an international reach as many supermarkets in Europe sell its products. Additionally, it is inspiring cooperatives and chocolate companies across the world. Here are Tony’s Chocolonely’s five guiding principles.

Tony’s 5 Guiding Principles

  1. Traceable Cocoa Beans: The company does not buy large quantities of anonymous beans, but rather trades directly with farmers and cooperatives so that it knows the environmental and social conditions in which the beans grew. The company has implemented Tony’s Beantracker so that it knows exactly where the cocoa for its chocolate comes from. This is part of its transparency to ensure conscious consumption.
  2. A Higher Price: The company pays a higher price for its cocoa to ensure that cocoa farmers earn a living wage, which is enough to feed their families and run their farms. This has involved paying a premium; as the cocoa market can be so volatile, Tony’s pays farmers the same amount, even when prices drop. This helps ensure that farmers have enough funds to maintain their livelihoods. In 2019, cocoa prices fell and Tony’s increased its premium from $375 to $600 per tonne to ensure the security of farmers’ income.
  3. Strengthening Farmers: Tony’s Chocolonely is working to professionalize farming cooperatives. If farmers work together, they will be more empowered to structurally challenge the inequality in the value chain. When working together, farmers can stand up to middlemen in the production chain, negotiate better prices when buying production resources as a collection and raise concerns. Tony’s facilitates meetings where farmers can engage and raise concerns, empowering farmers to speak up.
  4. The Long Term: Normally in the cocoa industry, a buyer seeks out the cheapest price. However, Tony’s has committed itself to sign five-year contracts to tie it into longer deals. The longevity of these deals allows the company to build relationships with the farmers. It also ensures farmers a stable income for five years so that they have a steady source of income and can feed their children and pay the bills.
  5. Improved Quality and Productivity: Tony’s invests in agricultural knowledge and skills related to growing cocoa and other crops. The company wants to help farmers increase their crop productivity to give them more stability in sales, but also in subsistence agriculture so they have the crops they need to survive nutritionally. To help here, Tony’s works with Soil & More to help farmers develop and source compost and organic fertilizer.

Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk

Tony’s Chocolonely leads by example in how it is fighting poverty in the cocoa industry. However, it has extended its mission to raise awareness and inspire others to act in the same way. It is spreading its message to more people every day in an effort to acknowledge the problems of slavery and poverty in the cocoa industry so that citizens can be more conscious consumers. Such awareness promotion is having an effect; in the Netherlands, where the company is based, 75% of people now know about the problems of child slavery and poverty in the cocoa industry and say they will try to be more ethical consumers.

Advocacy

Tony’s Chocolonely’s advocacy aims to inspire others. This is evident in its partnership with the Netherlands’ largest supermarket Albert Heijn, which has worked to make the chocolate it sells slave-free. In 2019, Tony’s Chocolonely also broke into the markets of the U.K. and Germany.

The company is aiming to pressure big chocolate producers like Nestle and Cadburys to eliminate child slavery from their practices. Tony’s Chocolonely wants to get to that tipping point where ethical practice becomes necessary for business and would like this to occur either through law or by requirement. In fact, it would like it to be necessary for businesses to have a license to operate in the cocoa industry.

– Lizzie Alexander
Photo: Flickr

Female Cacao Farmers in Cameroon
Cameroon is a country rich in natural resources and agricultural products such as coffee, cassava and cacao. This nation is the fifth-largest cacao producer in the world. The industry is a vital source of economic activity for small-scale rural farmers and contributes to about 1.2% of the country’s total GDP. However, female cacao farmers in Cameroon struggle to benefit from this industry.

The Gender Inequality Index ranks Cameroon 141 of 189. Expectations have determined that women must take care of daily chores such as cooking and fetching water. On average, women spend 8.2 more hours completing unpaid household tasks than men. Cacao fields are typically family-run enterprises. Thus, women often work in these fields as well. Cacao farming particularly affects women because it does not generate a lot of income.

Cameroon’s Cacao Industry

Cameroon liberalized its cacao industry in hopes of recovering from the economic crisis in the 1980s. At this time, the value of the national currency fell significantly after global oil prices fell.

Consequently, the industry swiftly deregulated. The regulatory branch of Cameroon overseeing cacao production and quality control lost its influence without government support. As a result, this lead to corruption of local middlemen, a lack of accurate information on cacao production and fluctuations in the quality of produced cacao. Only 10% of Cameroon’s cacao producers belonged to producer associations by 2002. Thus, Cameroon continues to struggle to compete in the world market.

Female Cacao Farmers in Cameroon

Female cacao farmers in Cameroon face additional challenges to the already competitive market due to the patriarchal society. Cacao production grew from 123,000 tons in 2000 to 290,000 in 2016. However, the quality of cacao decreased due to a lack of quality control in pre and post-harvest activities.

Men and women conduct different tasks in cacao production. Men take on physically demanding and dangerous tasks such as pesticide spraying and harvesting. Women focus on post-harvest activities fundamental to the quality of cacao such as pod-breaking, fermenting and drying.

Although labor is equally distributed, female cacao farmers in Cameroon often do not benefit from cacao revenue because they do not own the land. About 3% of women own a house without a property title and 1.6% own a property title in their name. This means men in households keep the profit that the cacao generates.

Furthermore, women lack representation in cacao production decision-making. In addition, women often do not have equal access to education. Men receive an average of 13 years of education, while women receive only 11 years. As a result, about 71.6% of women and 82% of men in Cameroon are literate. The lack of education hinders women’s ability to maintain financial independence.

Telcar

Telcar is one of Cameroon’s largest cacao trading companies. The International Finance Corporation installed cassava grinding machines in 10 cooperatives to help female cacao farmers in Cameroon. Many women supplement their income by selling manually-produced cassava starch to local markets. Kate Fotso grew up in a cocoa-producing village and is now managing director of Telcar. She installed cassava grinding machines to ease the laborious process, empower women and improve their economic status.

Female farmers in organized management committees learned how to use, maintain and pass knowledge about the machines to others. Additionally, Telcar recruited female farmers into financial literacy training programs and worked with micro-finance institutions to support women’s cassava enterprises. It increased their access to finance through saving and encouraged them to take on leadership roles within their cooperatives.

The Farmgate Cacao Alliance

The Farmgate Cocoa Alliance is a global nonprofit organization that focuses on achieving cacao sustainability in Cameroon. Women Empowerment Through Cacao Farming is its project that takes a holistic approach in supporting female farmers. The organization trains women to run professional and sustainable cacao farms. It allocated female community field agents to 50 women within the region to help identify group needs, challenges and lessons learned.

Furthermore, female farmers in Cameroon received encouragement to form cooperatives for better market access, more stable income and received 2 HA of land to combat a lack of access to farmland. Finally, the organization taught women advocacy skills to approach local and national governments concerning legal restrictions such as applying for land, financing and other assets and services.

SNV Netherlands Development Organization

SNV is a nonprofit from the Netherlands that focuses on empowering women through the cacao value chain. The Cameroon Golden Cacao Project aims to increase cooperatives and farmers’ income by implementing standardized post-harvest practices. The goal was to increase the production of high-quality cocoa by 10% by 2020.

Cooperatives and partners created more than 400 jobs for women. In addition, 500 of the 2,000 cooperative members who practice standardized knowledge were women by 2020. Women continue to increase their involvement at the post-harvest stages of the cacao value chain. In the future, women will develop other income generations and business models to find relevant financial partners.

Although female cacao farmers in Cameroon face many difficulties, organizations’ initiatives are already improving the lives of these workers. Providing educational opportunities will empower women and improve cacao production and the economy.

– Charlotte Ehlers
Photo: Flickr

Coca Farmers Poverty traps Colombian coca farmers in an unsustainable, unethical and sometimes dangerous occupation. During the country’s half-century-long civil war, rural communities were built up around the cultivation of coca to be used in the production of cocaine.

The Peace Deal

Militant guerrilla groups such as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were reliable buyers of coca crops as they used the cocaine trade to finance the war with the Colombian government. However, in 2016, a peace deal was agreed upon between the Colombian government and FARC that officially put an end to the civil war in Colombia. The peace agreement included a plan to wean rural communities off of the cultivation of coca by asking them to uproot their own coca plants and then providing them a monthly stipend as well as technical assistance in order to assist them in transitioning from coca to other crops. Due to organizational and financial oversights, however, many coca farmers have not received their full stipends nor have they received the technical assistance to change crops. Despite this, the Colombian government continues to carry out forced coca crop eradication efforts that leave these communities with no viable source of income.

Impoverished Farmers in Colombia

Even though the Colombian civil war is officially over, armed groups still vie for control of the cocaine trade, often employing violent, coercive methods to secure a steady supply of coca from impoverished farmers, putting coca farmers’ families and communities at risk due to the production of coca.

Often struggling to make ends meet, farmers rely on the steady income that coca cultivation provides them, despite their concerns about ethics and danger. With the implementation of the government’s coca replacement program falling flat, coca farmers were given little choice but to continue to cultivate coca crops or watch their families go hungry. Colombian law enforcement officials say 40% of forcefully eradicated coca crops are replanted. Voluntary replacement of coca crops with other crops is much more promising, with replanting rates near zero.

The Voluntary Replacement of Coca Crops

The voluntary replacement of coca crops with cacao allows farmers to provide themselves with a reliable income without having to endanger themselves or contribute to the narcotics industry. The National Federation of Cacao Farmers (Fedecacao) has been helping farmers to make this transition. With yields of up to 800kg per hectare, a cacao farmer can earn up to double the minimum wage of Colombia, making coca cultivation a less attractive alternative due to its illegality and the violence that the coca industry brings about. On top of this, the cacao industry in Colombia is growing with 177,000 hectares devoted to cacao­­, 25,000 of which were transitioned from coca cultivation. The increased production of cacao has resulted in Colombia becoming a cacao exporting country.

Joel Palacios Advocates for Cacao Transition

One particular example of a successful transition from coca cultivation to cacao is taking place in the department of Chocó in western Colombia where 60% of people live below the poverty line. Joel Palacios, a native of Chocó, has been devoted to advocating for the replacement of coca by cacao since 2011. For years, Palacios ran a chocolate training center for coca farmers who desire to grow cacao and turn it into chocolate. Palacios then launched Late Chocó, his own artisanal chocolate company based in Bogotá.

Helping Farmers Transition to Cacao

Stories like that of Palacios show the benefits of working with coca farmers to replace dangerous and illegal crops with more legal, profit-earning alternatives such as cacao. Whereas forcible, nonconsensual uprooting of coca produces inefficient results, the prospect of a steady, legal source of income incentivizes coca farmers to make the transition to cacao on their own.

Willy Carlsen
Photo: Flickr

Ben & Jerry's Pays Cocoa Farmers a Living WageWith 75 flavors spanning from classic Vanilla and Chocolate Fudge Brownie to Phish Food and Chunky Monkey, Ben & Jerry’s operates in 38 countries. Yet, the ultra-popular brand name signifies more than a tasty frozen treat. For much of its history, Ben & Jerry’s has been an outspoken supporter of social justice movements.  Ben & Jerry’s most recent efforts to create a more equitable future prioritize providing a living wage to cocoa farmers in West Africa.

Cocoa Farming in West Africa

The vast majority of the world’s cocoa beans are grown in West Africa, and especially in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Côte d’Ivoire alone exports 30% of cocoa beans sold to such chocolate makers as Nestlé and Mars.  The global chocolate market is a large one. It generates huge profits for the mostly European manufacturers who create chocolate bars and other sweets. In addition, it is extremely profitable for the retailers who sell these products on their shelves.  In 2014, for instance, sales for chocolate confectionary added up to $100 billion.

The value chain is incredibly lopsided, though. Côte d’Ivoire exports more cocoa beans than anywhere else in the world. Around 25% of the country’s population relies upon income generated from cocoa.  Yet these cocoa farmers earn barely $1 per day, less than the $1.90 that marks the extreme poverty line. International sales for chocolate depend upon these farmers and their laborers, but they will see just over 5% of a chocolate bar’s final value.

Cocoa farmers have long faced the challenge of a volatile market since predicted demand and harvest yields can drive prices up or down. Tim Adams highlighted this problem in The Guardian after the price Côte d’Ivoire farmers received fell sharply in 2017. At the same time, Barry Callebaut, which ranks among the world’s biggest cocoa processors and chocolate manufacturers, earned 12% more the next year, with a profit of $288 million.

Improving the Supply Chain with Fairtrade

Fairtrade International is one organization working to change this disparity. Since its founding in 1994, Fairtrade has sought to give small producers a square deal by creating more transparency in the supply chain. Although the organization now works with farmers on multiple continents growing a wide variety of crops—including bananas, tealeaves, sugar cane and coffee beans—cocoa was one of its first targets. This has meant that buyers of any Fairtrade-certified chocolate bar can be sure that:

  1. The Fairtrade Minimum Price cocoa farmers receive is geared towards covering production costs, even when prices fall.
  2. Farmers also receive a Fairtrade Premium that they can use to pay for any project they wish. In the past, these have included buying new trees and improving storage facilities.
  3. Cocoa producers agree to provide good working conditions for their hired workers. Discrimination, forced labor and child labor are all banned.

Finally, Fairtrade is working to establish living incomes for small-scale farmers and agricultural workers, over and above nationally set minimum wages. According to Fairtrade, a living income should allow people to afford nutritious food, decent housing and other essential needs with a small amount set aside to pay for unexpected emergencies.

Ben & Jerry’s Commitment

Here is where the ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s is stepping up to help the cocoa farmers. The company is a longtime supporter of Fairtrade. Additionally, it has paid millions in Fairtrade Premiums to small-scale farmers growing key ingredients like cocoa. Now, however, Ben & Jerry’s has committed to paying higher prices so that 5,000 farmers in Côte d’Ivoire will earn $600,000 more per year. Divided equally, each farmer will receive about $120 in additional income.

While the price increase will not immediately fill the gap between minimum wages and a living income, Ben & Jerry’s Chief of Social Mission Dave Rapaport has hopes for the future. He told Forbes that Ben & Jerry’s work with Fairtrade is an integral part of a larger strategy—and not just in Côte d’Ivoire. “This is one further step on a longer-term journey that will continue for us,” he said, “[because] we are really committed to helping farmers in our supply chain obtain living incomes and we will be expanding those efforts to supply chains beyond cocoa.”

Angie Grigsby
Photo: Flickr