Is cocoa farming profitable? Can cocoa farmers earn a decent living?
Cocoa is a “cash crop,” and has played an important, vibrant role in rural economies worldwide. It continues to do so today, providing families with income and raising the standard of living in thousands of communities where it is grown and harvested.
It is a crop that enjoys a consistent, global demand. In some regions, particularly in parts of West Africa, farmer incomes are low – in part due to low farm productivity – and as a result these farmers struggle. Industry-supported programs help farmers with issues such as crop loss due to disease, outdated farming techniques and other income-related issues. These programs demonstrate that farmer incomes can be significantly increased in a sustainable manner, by addressing the root causes.
Do chocolate companies own cocoa farms?
No. The vast majority of cocoa farms are owned and operated by individual farmers and farming families.
Do chocolate companies purchase their beans directly from farmers?
Only in extremely rare cases do companies purchase cocoa from farms. The cocoa supply chain can involve up to 12 different steps as cocoa is moved from the farming village to the port and then to the chocolate manufacturing facility, through a series of intermediaries.
Can chocolate companies pay more for their cocoa? Won’t that help farmers?
An effective way to help cocoa farmers earn more and become self-sufficient is to support them at the farm level – through different programs – rather than trying to set price controls that often fail.
Do children work on cocoa farms? Are there child labor issues on farms?
On hundreds of thousands of cocoa farms, children help out with farming tasks as members of the family, much as they do around the world, for many other crops. Helping out on the family farm is part of their daily chores, and for many farmers, an important step in eventually handing over the farm to their heirs.
At the same time, there are issues. Surveys in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana found that too many children are performing unsafe farming tasks, and being injured in the process. There are also instances where children may be working instead of attending school, and even moved (or “trafficked”) to a farm away from their village, to work full-time.
What is being done to address labor issues on cocoa farms?
The worldwide chocolate and cocoa industry believes that no child should in any way be harmed in cocoa farming, and that cocoa farming can – and must – play a positive role in the farming community. The industry supports a number of programs to help cocoa farmers, their families and farming communities. These programs are improving education: reducing the number of children exposed to unsafe farming tasks and helping exploited and/or “at-risk” children.
Why can’t industry simply label or “certify” its products?
In West Africa, cocoa is grown on as many as two million small farms spread across rural, often remote areas of the region. From the farm, a complex process takes the cocoa beans to port. Beans from multiple farms are mixed together, early in the process. To be credible, a label that certifies chocolate products as free of any labor abuses would require monitoring labor practices on every individual cocoa farm on a frequent basis. To do so on a massive scale, covering millions of tons of cocoa, would be impossible.
Can industry guarantee that chocolate is made without the worst forms of child labor?
While all private / product certification efforts address labor sensitization and training, they acknowledge that they do not provide day-to-day monitoring of labor practices. Given the absence of farm level monitoring, none of the “product certifiers” have claimed to offer a guarantee with respect to labor practices.
Public and private Certification efforts face the same daunting facts: millions of farmers and their families are on remote, smallholder farms. There are no walls, auditors, guards or monitors that can track the social conditions on each and every farm. With respect to traceability, while there can be a level of traceability in the beans produced by niche private certification schemes, it is not full traceability, bean to bar, but traceability from the co-op (or similar organization) one level up.
Why can’t industry trace each cocoa bean – to a farm that grows cocoa responsibly?
The length and complexity of the cocoa supply chain, including the number of intermediaries involved in moving several million metric tons of cocoa from individual farms to port, makes credible traceability of each and every pound/kilogram of cocoa a physical impossibility. Further complicating such an approach is the practice of combining beans from different farms – and entire villages – in the early stages of the supply chain.
What is the environmental impact of cocoa farming?
Actually, cocoa farming is most effective when undertaken in harmony with the surrounding environment, which is often the tropical rainforest. Cocoa trees grow best when under the shade canopy of tropical forest trees, and when environmentally responsible techniques are used to control pests and disease.
How can I get involved?
There are a number of organizations working to help cocoa farming families and the communities in which they live. Two of the leading groups include the World Cocoa Foundation (www.worldcocoa.org) and the International Cocoa Initiative (www.cocoainitiative.org).