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Sustainable cocoa gets the seal of approval

Ecuador is one of the leading cocoa exporters in the world (Rainforest Alliance)
Ecuador is one of the leading cocoa exporters in the world
Rainforest Alliance

Ecuador is one of the leading cocoa exporters in the world and many farmers have resorted to clearing old trees and using hybrid plants and agrochemicals in order to expand production and grow cocoa more intensively. Since 1997, the Rainforest Alliance and its partner, Conservación y Desarrollo (CyD), have been working to improve farming practices in order to increase production, improve cocoa quality and access to premium markets, reduce costs and, at the same time, conserve biodiversity.

To become Rainforest Alliance certified, a farm must meet strict environmental, social and economic standards. In addition to conserving wildlife, forests, soils and water, the standards require farmers to implement integrated crop and pest management. In the case of Ecuador, farmers are required to grow cocoa under the rainforest canopy, reduce the use of agrochemicals and reforest areas not suitable for agriculture.

In addition to training farmers to help them meet the standards, CyD has also helped smallscale farmers organise themselves into cooperatives. Farmers are also taught how to sort, dry and ferment their cocoa beans using a cooperative processing facility, which reduces the number of damaged and rotten beans and preserves anti-oxidant properties, improving the quality of the beans. To date, more than 3,000 cocoa farmers in six communities have been certified.

Expanding the benefits

In Côte d'Ivoire, certification has seen yields increase and the incidence of disease decrease (Francisco Naranjo/ Rainforest Alliance)
In Côte d'Ivoire, certification has seen yields increase and the incidence of disease decrease
Francisco Naranjo/ Rainforest Alliance

Drawing on experiences learnt in Ecuador, the Rainforest Alliance expanded to West Africa to begin certifying cocoa farmers in Côte d'Ivoire in 2007. "One of the challenges of working with cocoa farmers in Côte d'Ivoire and other parts of West Africa is that, unlike in Latin America, certification is a new concept," explains Edward Millard, the Rainforest Alliance's director of sustainable landscapes. "Teaching farmers about the importance of certification and what's involved in the process requires a good deal of on-the-ground training and education."

With these new skills and training in better agricultural practices, over 2,000 Ivorian farmers have now been certified and as a result have seen yields increase by 50 per cent. Simultaneously, the incidence of cocoa black pod disease, the number one threat to cocoa, has dropped by one third. In 2007-2008 the premium for certified cocoa generated an additional US$280,000 for farmers. "These results will encourage my children to seriously consider going into farming as a business," Ouarmé Atome, a cocoa farmer, declares.

But, while the Rainforest Alliance offers help and guidance to farmers, they do not specify a minimum price. "Certification helps farmers learn how to negotiate for themselves and compete in an increasingly complex and globalised marketplace," observes Mercedes Tallo, Rainforest Alliance's sustainable value chains director. "Giving farmers the tools and techniques that will empower them to be able to compete in the market, control costs, improve productivity and conserve their fertile soils and natural resources, is what we mean by sustainability."

Growing commitments to sustainability

From small beginnings, the demand for certified cocoa is now outstripping supply, despite the economic climate. "We are now seeing the cocoa industry as a whole moving toward a more responsible approach to production," Millard says. "Companies across the whole supply chain, from cocoa processors to chocolate manufacturers, are showing real interest in certification."

Sales of Rainforest Alliance Certified™ cocoa grew from US$4.5 million in 2007 to US$16.75 million in 2008. But with recent commitments, from Kraft Foods to use certified cocoa across its Côte d'Or and Marabou ranges by 2012, and Mars Inc. to source its entire supply of cocoa from certified farms by 2020, this figure is set to rise dramatically. "By engaging big companies that have decided to transform their entire supply chain, the benefits to farmers, farm workers, and tropical ecosystems is enormous," explains Tallo. "This is an example of the tremendous impact global companies can have when they commit to sustainability."

From cocoa to tea

Smallholder farmers in Kericho are the first group in Kenya to achieve Rainforest Alliance certification (Caroline Irby/Rainforest Alliance)
Smallholder farmers in Kericho are the first group in Kenya to achieve Rainforest Alliance certification
Caroline Irby/Rainforest Alliance

To date, the Rainforest Alliance certifies 30 products in over 20 countries, benefiting nearly 3 million families. But they are constantly expanding into new areas of work that will support their aims. In addition to certifying biofuel crops that have a big impact on deforestation, such as palm oil, the Rainforest Alliance has also recently developed a group certification process in order to reach more smallholder farmers. Over 12,500 smallholder tea farmers were the first group in Kenya to achieve certification, in November 2009.

"By linking consumers to sustainable agriculture, Rainforest Alliance certification is a very simple but successful way of protecting ecosystems and the people that depend on them," emphasises Tallo. "By providing people with the means to extract a sustainable living from the land, giving businesses the opportunity to source responsibly produced goods, and making sustainable goods and services available and affordable to consumers, we are connecting the supply and demand side of a sustainable economy."

Date published: January 2010


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