Mighty Earth says sector needs to pay more for cocoa to deliver sustainability

Not-for-profit organisation Mighty Earth has offered a key cocoa sector assessment, claiming sustainability initiatives are destined to fail unless the industry pays more for crops, writes Neill Barston.

The group, which co-published the recently released Cocoa Barometer industry study, noted that endemic issues within core supply chains including child labour and deforestation were set to remain entrenched without urgent action on farmer pay.

The report finds that a combination of public policies, private sector purchasing practices, and agricultural solutions are needed.

As the organisation noted, the barometer – developed by the VOICE Network of civil society organisations, of which Mighty Earth is a member – shows that there remains a wide range of problems facing families in cocoa communities, including child labour; gender inequality; (infant) malnutrition; lack of access to education; insufficient health care facilities and sanitation; and a variety of labour rights violations for smallholders, workers, and tenants. Environmental issues such as deforestation and climate change remain a growing concern.

Without a significant increase in earnings, cocoa farmers will be burdened with the responsibility for addressing this range of issues without the means or incentives to do so. As such, environmental and social harms such as deforestation and child labour are likely to continue in the world’s major cocoa producing countries Ghana and Ivory Coast.

Dr Julian Oram, Senior Director at Mighty Earth, said: “Commodity traders and chocolate companies talk a good talk about wanting to protect forests and tackle social problems such as child labour that continue to plague the cocoa industry. But ultimately, they need to put their money where their mouth is by paying farmers more so they can earn a living income for growing cocoa sustainably”.

Top-down national and international government strategies aimed at increasing cocoa production to address poverty tend to support the chocolate industry while failing to address these issues. Additionally, the cost-of-living crisis is putting further pressure on farmers in West Africa.

Yao Kouame Martia, of the cocoa cooperative ECAM, in the south-west of Ivory Coast, underlined the major challenges facing the sector.

“In the past, after selling my cocoa beans, I used to plan my expenses and charges for my household, but this is becoming very difficult now. Prices of products are far beyond my provisions. I have children to care about and I‘m struggling to pay their school fees”.

Furthermore, Mighty Earth noted that new data and models launched with this Barometer confirm that development measures aimed at increasing productivity and diversification will be ultimately ineffective without real efforts to close the living income gap through higher farmgate prices. Likewise, development programmes alone are incapable of reducing deforestation, the use of hazardous pesticides or entrenching the long-term adoption of good agricultural practices.

Despite this evidence, most cocoa-purchasing companies continue to operate business as usual, supporting development programmes while refusing to directly address their own purchasing practices – including pricing.

Hayford Duodu, a cocoa farmer in Ghana, added:“The one thing that affects us farmers is the pricing of cocoa beans. In fact, pricing is a disincentive to cocoa farmers”.

According to the VOICE Network, raising productivity or increasing farm size will never work in isolation to address the myriad of problems in the global cocoa supply chain.

The Barometer concludes that, in order for living income to become a reality for cocoa farmers, action is needed on three separate fronts: good governance policies by public bodies; good purchasing practices by the private sector; and good agricultural practices by farmers.

For the past two decades, however, almost all of the cocoa sector efforts have been focused on farmers themselves, sidestepping the necessary changes in government policy and purchasing practices needed to tackle sustainability issues.

In this context, recent efforts by the EU to establish ‘due diligence’ directives aimed at curbing environmental and social harms in global supply chains, including cocoa, are a welcome first step towards creating a more transparent supply chain. This is essential for keeping companies accountable for their purchasing practices. Ultimately even these positive policy developments will come to nothing if companies do not take action soon: they need to pay a higher price.

 

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