Chocolate industry teams with charity in $90m bid to assist West African cocoa producers

Posted by Isobel Drake on 20th February 2009

The World Cocoa Foundation overnight announced a new program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and companies from the chocolate industry to significantly improve the livelihoods of approximately 200,000 cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Liberia. The innovative, five-year West Africa Cocoa Livelihoods Program will focus on enhancing farmer knowledge and competitiveness, improving productivity and quality, promoting crop diversification and improving supply chain efficiency. These initiatives are expected to help increase farmers’ incomes and significantly improve cocoa community well-being.

Two grants – US$23 million to the World Cocoa Foundation and $25 million to the German development organisation Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit – were awarded in conjunction with $42 million in cash and in-kind contributions from private industry. The financial support and in-kind contributions came from: major branded manufacturers The Hershey Company, Kraft Foods and Mars; cocoa processors Archer Daniels Midland Company, Barry Callebaut, Blommer Chocolate Company and Cargill; and supply chain managers and allied industries Armajaro, Ecom-Agrocacao, Olam International and Starbucks Coffee Company.

The governments of the participating West African countries will support and be full partners in the program’s implementation.

“We know from experience that cocoa can play a significant, positive role in improving farm family incomes in the developing world,” said Bill Guyton, President, World Cocoa Foundation. “However, many cocoa farmers today lack the practical knowledge and organisational support needed to grow this unique crop profitably and sustainably. Thanks to our new partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we will be able to dramatically expand our efforts to reach these farmers in West Africa and to promote economic and social development as well as environmental conservation in cocoa-growing communities.”

Implementation plans and site selection for the West Africa Cocoa Livelihoods Program will be finalised over the coming months. On-the-ground program activities are expected to begin in late 2009 and early 2010. Once underway, the program will train farmers in better production techniques, quality improvement and business skills; professionalise farmer organisations to better meet member needs; and improve farmer access to agricultural inputs and improved-quality seedlings. The project will also improve farmers’ access to market information and opportunities for diversification into alternative food and cash crops to maximise farmer income and security.

“Cocoa is West Africa’s largest agricultural export, providing a living for nearly two million smallholder farmers and their families in the region,” said Madame Amouan Acquah Assouan, Vice President, Coffee-Cocoa Sector Management Committee, Republic of Côte d’Ivoire. “Too many of them grow cocoa on a subsistence basis, failing to realise the economic benefit this important crop can provide. The new West Africa Cocoa Livelihoods Program can change this situation for the better, lifting thousands of these farm families out of poverty.”

“Agriculture offers powerful pathways out of poverty, but without access to knowledge, tools, and markets, millions of smallholder farmers – most of whom are women – aren’t able to prosper from their land and labour,” noted Dr. Rajiv Shah, Director of Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We’re excited to support this partnership, which will create opportunities for these farmers to sustainably boost their incomes and lift themselves and their families out of hunger and poverty.” To date, the foundation has committed more than $1 billion in agricultural development efforts to increase opportunities for small farmers to succeed at every step of the way-from seed to sale.