CHICAGO — Mondelez International, the world’s largest chocolate company and buyer of cocoa, is about at the halfway point in its 10-year $400 million program, Cocoa Life, designed to do nothing less than “transform the lives of cocoa farmers and inspire the next generation of producers” in six countries around the world where cocoa output is significant and Mondelez is a customer.
While the company’s goals vis-à-vis cocoa production have a lofty ring, they also have a pragmatic basis. Mondelez can point to significant gains in cocoa yields in countries where Cocoa Life initiatives have been implemented. In Ghana, the second largest cocoa bean producer worldwide, farmers who participated in the Mondelez program have seen their incomes triple in the period of 2009 to 2015 — 49% more than in control communities — and cocoa yields increased 37% more than in control communities, the snack company said.
World demand for chocolate has been lackluster in recent years, reflecting in part economic weakness in Europe, the largest per capita consumer of chocolate. In addition, western confectionery companies have encountered less enthusiasm than predicted for chocolate products in countries such as China and India that lack a long history of chocolate consumption. Chocolate candies often are given as gifts in these cultures, but they are not a frequent indulgence, as is true in the United States and Europe.
Despite current softness in the chocolate industry, it is safe to say that concerns are ongoing about how cocoa supplies will remain adequate to meet growing world demand, especially in light of predictions that the world’s population will increase to nine billion by 2050. In 2015-16, for instance, world cocoa bean supplies were expected to show a global cocoa deficit of 160,000 tonnes, mostly because of a smaller mid-crop hurt by drought in West Africa.
Despite vicissitudes in cocoa bean supplies and their resulting price fluctuations, longer-term concerns about maintaining sufficient supplies amid rising chocolate demand are ongoing. One reason is the restricted geography where cocoa beans thrive — a narrow band of land on either side of the Equator. Cocoa bushes typically are grown under other, larger trees on small plots tended by women and children. Industrial-scale farming of cocoa beans further away from the equator is not seen as a viable option to increase production.
Enter the idea of improving the cocoa crop sustainability and yields: doing more with available resources by helping farmers make better agricultural decisions through increased education and training. In addition to the inherent good of sustainable agriculture, such an approach makes business sense as well.
Mondelez has embraced this notion in its Cocoa Life program, part of the company’s Call for Well-being, which includes a corporate mission to make gains in sustainability, well-being, communities and safety. By introducing business practices and principles of gender equality well-known in the developed world, Mondelez is building the sustainability of its cocoa supply chain in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana as well as in Indonesia, India, Dominican Republic and Brazil. Cocoa Life is making positive changes, especially in Africa, in an industry that has been accused of being too dependent on child labor and other out-of-date practices.
“Our ultimate goal is to source all of our cocoa sustainably, mainly via Cocoa Life,” Mondelez recently told Milling & Baking News. “By the end of 2015, 21% of our cocoa was sustainably sourced versus 12% in 2014.”
By the end of 2016, Mondelez said it was “aggressively scaling up” and would be reaching more than 95,000 farmers. The goal by 2020 is for Cocoa Life to involve 200,000 cocoa farmers and reach one million community members across the world.
A top priority of Cocoa Life is building success in improving women’s roles and status in cocoa production in Ivory Coast and Ghana.
“Gender equality benefits everyone and is essential if cocoa communities are to thrive,” Mondelez said. “That’s why promoting women’s empowerment has been a cross-cutting them in Cocoa Life since 2008.”
Mondelez said there are sound statistics to back up Cocoa Life’s focus on supporting women farmers.
“According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, for agriculture as a whole, if women had the same access to land, technology, financial services, education and markets as men, yields on women’s farms could increase by 20% to 30%,” Mondelez said. “For cocoa, specific research has shown that women are particularly involved in early plant care, fermentation and drying. Within the cocoa sector, a number of industry professionals indicate that early plant care, fermentation and drying are critical to enhancing yields and obtaining the quality cocoa required by the chocolate industry.”
Actions undertaken by Cocoa Life to improve gender equality among cocoa farmers in Ghana have included training women working on cocoa farms as well as increasing their access to farm inputs, land ownership and membership in farmer groups. Another area of focus has been increasing women’s access to finance, sometimes through voluntary savings and loan associations (VSLA’s) as well as improving literacy and household food security.
“In Cocoa Life, we use the VSLA’s as a way to improve access to finance for cocoa farming communities,” the company said. “We see that this opportunity is taken up mainly by women.”
Mondelez said Cocoa Life has worked in Ghana on “empowering role in decision making in their households, communities and with district and national farmer forums; engaging women in drawing up Community Action Plans; training community leaders, Cocoa Life implementing partners and Cocoa Life staff in gender awareness; and engaging government institutions at district and national level on issues that affect women.” Similar actions have been taken in Cote d’Ivoire, the largest world producer of cocoa beans.
Mondelez said it believes focusing on improving the lives of women working in cocoa production ultimately will have a positive impact on the problem of child labor in the industry.
“With a holistic approach centered on cocoa communities, Cocoa Life helps to address child labor directly, as well as its root causes,” Mondelez said. “Our N.G.O. partners like Care International … raise awareness of child labor in Cocoa Life communities with training for both children and parents. And importantly, Cocoa Life helps to address the root causes of child labor with actions to improve the livelihoods of farmers, empower women and promote education. There is no trade-off between addressing child labor and empowering women — each reinforces the other.”
Cocoa Life publishes third-party assessments by scholars and non-profits that track its progress toward sustainability. Cocoa Life plans to focus even more “on delivering measurable outcomes and impact in the Cocoa Life communities while we scale up our interventions. In doing so, more of our chocolate brands will be sourcing cocoa through the program,” Mondelez said.
The snack company’s efforts have been recognized by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI), a measurement of companies across the world in terms of economic, environmental and social criteria. Mondelez has been included on DJSI North America and World Indices for 12 consecutive years.
“In 2016, we improved our overall score to reach the 95th percentile of our industry and achieved perfect scores of 100 in health and nutrition, raw material sourcing and water-related risks,” the company said.
While Mondelez has a strong proprietary interest in the benefits of Cocoa Life, it recognizes that sustainability and improved outcomes in the cocoa bean sector is bigger than the efforts of a single corporation.
“Mondelez International is part of the CocoaAction strategy under the World Cocoa Foundation,” the company said. “It brings the world’s leading cocoa and chocolate companies together to accelerate sustainability and improve the livelihood of cocoa farmers.
“CocoaAction will develop meaningful partnerships between governments, cocoa farmers, and the cocoa industry to boost productivity and strengthen community development in Cote D”Ioviore and Ghana — the largest cocoa producing countries in the world.“CocoaAction intends to train and deliver improved planting material and fertilizer to 300,000 cocoa farmers and empower communities through primary education, child labor monitoring and women’s empowerment.”