Positive gains in cocoa from ISEAL members

Cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire talk to a Rainforest Alliance auditor.
ISEAL members have achieved a significant increase in participation in certification from cocoa farmers, and have seen mainstream commitments from leading buyers in the last few years.

Cocoa is one of the most challenging sectors that ISEAL members work in, with social and environmental problems ranging from climate change to pesticide use to low yields to child labour.  There are more than one million cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire alone, with the vast majority small producers, plus another 3+ million Ivorians who depend on income from the cocoa sector at large.  Côte d’Ivoire, the leading cocoa producing country in the world, also has a long history of price volatility, poverty among its small holders, and child labour.

Together, ISEAL members UTZ Certified, Fairtrade International and Rainforest Alliance are seeing a significant increase in the last two years with regards to the number of participating farmers in their programmes; offering a strong sign of support for credible certification among cocoa communities and cocoa buyers.

An August 2012 study done by the International Cocoa Council (ICC) on certification found that recent commitments from several mainstream cocoa buyers (including Mars, Kraft, Unilever, Hershey and others) to source only or partially certified cocoa has led to a surge in the total production of certified cocoa, reaching six percent of total cocoa production in 2010 for Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified cocoa combined, and then almost doubling to eleven percent of the total in 2011.  Based on the anticipation of these ISEAL members, production of certified cocoa could reach almost 30% of expected total production by 2020.  The expansion is driven by the recognition that cocoa farmers’ incomes and yields need to rise significantly to make cocoa sustainable, and that credible certification systems are helping to accomplish these goals.

ISEAL member certification systems were found in the ICC study to converge in their ideal of improving the livelihoods of farmers and the sustainability of the cocoa value chain (In February 2011, Fairtrade International, UTZ Certified and Rainforest Alliance publicly recognised that their diverse approaches are positive for the certification movement as a whole, and pledged to cooperate where possible. The historic statement can be read here.)  Advantages were identified by ICC including  access to credit and new markets, stability through long term contracts, better resilience to price volatility, improved awareness of child labour, access to schools and health facilities, improved working conditions, and stronger bargaining positions at the cooperative level. 

But by far the largest result has been increases in yield, of an average of 89% in Ghana and 101% in Côte d’Ivoire, the consequence of certification interventions including training of good agriculture practices. 

As Eric Servat, Senior Cocoa Programme Manager at Rainforest Alliance said last month “the key to achieving justice for Ivorians and an adequate future supply of cocoa for consumers is to raise yields dramatically.  It can certainly be done.  After working with USDA and IBM to map the cocoa genome, Mars announced this year it knows how to raise yields from 400 kg per hectare to 1,500 kg. Beyond assuring future supply, higher yields generate higher income for farmers, and reduce economic pressures that exploit smallholders and draw children into working on the farms.

Han de Groot, Managing Director at UTZ Certified, adds “Through trainings and other services to farmers, UTZ enables farmers to increase their yields, reduce input costs and improve the quality of their products. They are thereby enabled to ensure a better income, while at the same time taking better care of the environment.”

ISEAL members active in the cocoa sector have also been involved in a collaborative project to increase the capacity of cocoa producers in West Africa to improve agricultural practices and achieve certification - the Certification Capacity Enhancement project.

Where poverty runs deep and government involvement is not yet mature, certification systems are one of the few mechanisms for improving social and environmental practices.  In the last five years alone, the baseline of acceptable practice in the cocoa sector has indisputably risen.

Problems in West Africa’s cocoa sector do remain ingrained — prices and yields generally are low, small farms are vulnerable to climate change, examples of child labour can still be found, and supply is not yet secure.   But ISEAL members’ certification systems have proven to be good tools for increasing yields and income, leading to a more sustainable future for cocoa farmers and their landscapes and communities.

There is still a long way to go to advance sustainability in the cocoa sector. Together and with a commitment to continue to become more effective, ISEAL members will continue to be part of the solution.