The future of commodities: pioneering change with the World Cocoa Foundation

Cocoa Pod

The production of everyday commodities, such as cocoa can have a huge impact on the environment, affecting biodiversity, water and the climate.

As part of a thought-provoking new series, The Future of Commodities, Tim McCoy, Vice President, Member and External Relations at World Cocoa Foundation shares insights on how this global multi-stakeholder platform is working to drive change in the cocoa supply chain.

1. What is the World Cocoa Foundation and why was it established?

The World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) is a non-profit international membership organization whose vision is a sustainable and thriving cocoa sector – where farmers prosper, cocoa-growing communities are empowered, human rights are respected, and the environment is conserved. Our 100+ members include chocolate and cocoa companies, as well as other companies involved in the cocoa supply chain. WCF was established to provide a platform for companies in the cocoa supply chain to work together on a non-competitive basis to address key cocoa sustainability challenges.

2. How is the World Cocoa Foundation scaling impact in cocoa growing regions?

At WCF, we occupy a unique position in that we are able to have insights into what our members, which represent about 80 percent of the global chocolate and cocoa sector, are doing to advance sustainability in their supply chains.  We therefore function as a knowledge and learning center, and help share best practices, lessons learned, etc., with both our members and a wide range of other stakeholders, including cocoa-producing growing country governments and civil society organizations. This positions us very favorably to help achieve impact.

One of our main initiatives is CocoaAction, a voluntary strategy that aligns the world’s leading cocoa and chocolate companies, the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, and key stakeholders on regional priority issues in cocoa sustainability. The twin focus of CocoaAction is on boosting productivity and strengthening community development. CocoaAction companies share a common monitoring & evaluation framework, and review detailed data together— a pioneering model made possible through extensive pre-competitive collaboration and transparency. We aim to work with 300,000 farmers as they adopt CocoaAction productivity practices and we also seek through CocoaAction to empower 1,200 communities through an agreed upon set of community development interventions.

Another major focus of WCF is the issue of cocoa-related deforestation. Beginning in 2017, we  partnered  with IDH the Sustainable Trade Initiative and the Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit, as well as the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, to launch the Cocoa & Forests Initiative (CFI), which seeks to end deforestation and forest degradation in the cocoa supply chain in these two countries. CFI also places a focus on improving yields on existing cocoa-growing lands that are outside protected forest and national park areas, thereby helping to reduce encroachments on forested area.  As part of their CFI commitments, cocoa and chocolate companies and the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana have committed to no further conversion of any forest land for cocoa production and to eliminate illegal cocoa production in national parks, in line with stronger enforcement of national forest policies and development of alternative livelihoods for affected farmers. The two governments and 27 leading chocolate and cocoa companies thus far have committed to full and effective consultation and participation of cocoa farmers in the process and to the promotion of community-based management models for forest protection and restoration.

3. What are some of the main lessons learnt along the way?

One of the most important lessons of our work is the powerful impact that can be achieved through collective action. WCF has championed this approach since our earliest days.  When cocoa and chocolate companies work in close partnership with producer country governments, farmers, civil society organizations, development partners, and other stakeholders in the cocoa supply chain, we are more likely to achieve impact on the difficult challenges that we face, including farmer livelihoods, community empowerment, environmental sustainability, and human rights. But we also recognize that these issues are extremely complex and that more work needs to be done. We want to accelerate private-public partnerships and non-competitive collaboration to achieve our vision.

4. How do you track progress to ensure change is being driven across the whole cocoa supply chain – from improved farmer livelihoods to increased consumer awareness?

CocoaAction is designed for learning and scaling impact and has an extensive Monitoring & Evaluation framework. In 2016, we collected 15,000 data points on cocoa-farms in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Cooperative data collection enables CocoaAction companies to better understand their impact and promotes accountability.

For CFI, a monitoring system is also being developed and will take into account elements such as updated maps on forest cover and land-use, as well as socio-economic data on cocoa farmers and their communities. The chocolate and cocoa industry has agreed to put in place verifiable monitoring systems for traceability from farm to the first purchase point for their own purchases of cocoa, and will work with the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana to ensure an effective national framework for traceability for all traders in the supply chain. The two governments and CFI companies are committed to a comprehensive monitoring process, including a satellite-based monitoring system to track progress on the overall deforestation target. Results of the work done through CFI will be publicly shared.

5. What does a ‘climate-smart’ future for cocoa look like?

Because of climate change, it is increasingly clear that some land will become less suitable for cocoa production. Smallholder cocoa farmers, who commonly face economic hardships, are now experiencing the effects of fluctuating weather patterns and prolonged drought, particularly in Latin America. Over time, these conditions could pose serious problems for the entire supply chain. But current projections are based on a continued ‘business as usual’ approach to growing cocoa. At WCF, our work on cocoa sustainability is anything but ‘business as usual.’

Today, due to obsolete agricultural practices, productivity on most cocoa farms is far below where it could be. This directly impacts farmer incomes and also leads many farmers to seek “new” lands, including recently deforested areas, to expand their farms. We know that with improved planting materials, professional farming techniques, and sustainable soil fertility management, cocoa productivity can be increased and farmers can, therefore, better cope with climate change. In 2016, WCF launched Climate Smart Cocoa (CSC) in West Africa and Latin America.

Through CSC, WCF supports the development of a training curriculum that companies and governments can use to train farmers on specific climate change adaptation practices targeted to their unique climatic zone. As temperatures rise and cocoa trees struggle with hydration levels, agroforestry is increasingly viewed by experts as a promising model for cocoa farming: it improves shade and ecosystem services while increasing farm resilience and diversifying household income. WCF helps to identify market linkages for agroforestry products and also promotes the use of improved cocoa planting material that is more resilient to heat and drought. We develop financing mechanisms to support farm-level renovation and rehabilitation and work with governments on land and tree tenure national policies to put the appropriate incentives in place for farmers. Finally, WCF is growing our own understanding of environmental sustainability in the Latin American context, where cocoa, as a native plant, can help restore degraded land, drive reforestation and even sustain indigenous communities.

As part of our series “The future of commodities: Pioneering change” we’ve interviewed inspiring individuals working in sectors including cotton, palm oil and timber. Read the interviews here.

Greenhouse PR takes great pride in working with pioneers who are helping to tackle some of the world’s biggest environmental issues. If your organisation has a story to tell, we’d love to hear from you.