WEST AFRICA — Cocoa grown in Ghana and the Ivory Coast accounts for more than 70% of the world’s supply. The crop has been a major export of West Africa for the past 100 years.
However, there is trouble on the horizon for chocolate. The world is not running out of cocoa beans; it is running out of cocoa farmers. There are two million small-scale farmers in the West African countries, most living in or around the threshold of poverty.
Each year, the Barometer Consortium funds and releases a Cocoa Barometer. A diverse group of NGOs from Europe and the United States details problems within the cocoa trade and seeks to point out areas in need of improvement.
According to the Barometer, cocoa farmers in Ghana earns just 84 cents per day on average, and only 50 cents in the Ivory Coast. Cocoa prices are unsustainably low. For every chocolate bar worth $1, a farmer earns only 6.6%.
The sector is filled with human rights violations and child labor practices. Elizabeth O’Connell is a fair labor campaign director at Green America. She explains that these are the result of a lack of opportunities and widespread poverty.
O’Connell shares that “In order to prevent children from working in dangerous settings, we must ensure that farms, including women, sharecroppers and tenant farms, are earning enough to harvest cocoa sustainably.”
For example, farmers lack the power to determine prices or access the market. They have no collective mechanism of bargaining power to demand rights or changes. Moreover, farms are small, which results in low productivity. Older generations divide up their larger farms to give a share to each of their children. These children, however, are opting out of cocoa farming and choosing careers with more promising futures.
Concerning gender, women are excluded from decision-making. Assata Doumbia owns a cocoa farm with her husband in the Ivory Coast. She receives none of the farm’s “extremely low, almost nothing” earnings.
Doumbia is a part of a 120-women cooperative that is hoping to change this.
As for growing beans, “high yielding” mono-culture crops are being used more and more. While they produce a hefty amount of beans in the short run, they also drain the soil of nutrients and call for harsh chemical fertilizers. These pollute the environment and are rather costly.
The World Cocoa Foundation and some of the world’s largest chocolate sellers have joined together to launch Cocoa Action. The initiative creates a link between the government and farmers in order to make a sustainable cocoa industry and help pull farmers out of poverty.
With adequate training, eco-friendly fertilizer and proper supplies provided for 300,000 farmers, communities gain the ability to improve crop yields while keeping the industry sustainable. Once farmers can make enough money, they can provide for themselves and their families. Progress will be assessed on a regular basis and farms scrutinized for human rights and child labor violations.
Chocolate companies like Cargill, Ferrero, Hershey Company, Nestle, and Mars hope that cocoa farming can adjust with the times. Mars says, “we have long believed that putting farmers first and helping them become more productive requires an industry wide effort to have sustainable cocoa.”