The risk that cocoa suppliers will not be able to meet the required demand is a serious threat to the cocoa sector. The trees that produce cocoa beans are generally old, are rooted in over-farmed soil, and are tended by poor farmers with little if any formal educaton. The majority of farmers are smallholders, which means that they grow cocoa as a cash crop on a small plot of land, along with food crops and occasionally also with other cash crops. From the income generated by these cash crops they pay their hospital bills, debts, their children’s school expenses. Farmers rarely have any remaining financial means to utilise for on-farm investments. Crop losses are a huge problem, as a large portion of the harvest is usually lost to pest and diseases. Money to invest in new plant material, fertilizer or pesticides is lacking; the know-how to apply it is scarce. Farmers often work by themselves and receive little support in terms of training, advice, or access to credit. In this context, exasperated by poor infrastructure and their marginal position farmers sometimes keep their children from school and allow them to help or work on the farm.
Because of these appalling conditions, the continuity of cocoa production is under threat. First, there is an exodus from the countryside as youngsters see no future there and seek other possibilities by migrating to the city. Additionally, crops like rubber, cassava, and oil palms have become more profitable for farmers. Cocoa production in West Africa shows a decreasing trend of 2% per year, while, at the same time, demand for cocoa products, including high quality chocolate, is expected to increase in the near future. The cocoa industry is concerned about these developments and faces a majpr challenge: how to assure that supply continues to meet demand.
In order to assure that farmers remain in the cocoa business and increase the quantity and quality of their production, industry partners are investing heavily in farmers. Multinational companies have their own initiatives, they are also increasingly collaborating to jointly tackle the problem of supply failure. Not only cocoa companies, but also goverments, financial institutions, NGOs, labour unions and certifiers have been joining forces to provide support to farmers. A example of such efforts is the international Cocoa Livelihoods Program. Thhis program focuses on enhancing farmer knowledge, improving farmer marketing skills on agriculturally diversified farms. The Dutch have positioned themselves as leaders in the proces of mainstreaming sustainable cocoa. It is estimated that Dutch companies will invest around $325 million in sustainable cocoa during the course of the next several years (accessed15 July 2010). In the Netherlands a number of industry players have united forces, together with goverment and members of civel society, realise the goal of sustainable cocoa and, addressing the risk of supplier failure, to improve yields and profitability for farmers. One of the results is the UTZ CERTIFIED Cocoa Program, established by several multinational companies.
With this initiative they want to at least double the current yields of approximately 400 kg / ha by training farmers in modern farming techniques, using new plant material and increased use of fertilizer. They also want to increase dialogue with authorities to improve enabling factors. The program focuses on the largest producer countries: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Indonesia, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Ecuador. By focusing on capacity building in the source locations and providing farmer training, the program aims to improve the farmers’ productivity and the quality of their produce; which ultimately should be rewarded by the market, under the maxim: ‘Better price for better products’.