Tag Archives: knowledge

Chocolate Forever 4 Does a Dutch knowledge base on cocoa still exist?

How can you speak of a Dutch knowledge base in a sector that is inherently international?

Finca La Amistad Costa Rica

Finca La Amistad Costa Rica

The Netherlands play an important role in the international cocoa sector. Amsterdam is the biggest coca harbor in the world; annually a staggering 600,000 tonnes is beeing imported from cocoa producing countries, such as Ghana and Ivory Coast. At CWT Sitos, a warehousing company in the Port of Amsterdam, 150,000 tonnes of cocoa is stored, totalling 5% of world cocoa production (NRC Handelsblad 27Th of February 2006). The total amount of cocoa that passe through the harbour is 20% of world cocoa production, and the bulk of this percentage is processed into semifinished products in the Zaan area, with Cargill and ADM as the major players. …

The large economic importance of cocoa for the Dutch economy, and the prominent role of the Dutch in the international cocoa chain, demands a strong knowledge infrastructure, one able to support the dynamic character of the cocoa cluster. According to a study (2007), despite the Netherlands important position, the Dutch know-how is evaporating. There is no knowledge infrastructure that supports knowledge development specifically on cocoa. Three questions pop-up: first, is this really the case? Second, is this a problem, considering the fact that the cocoa sector is inherently international? And third, what is the Dutch position in the international cocoa chain in terms of generation and sharing of knowledge connected to sustainable cocoa? This last question is important, as the development of sustainable cocoa chains demands not only knowledge on cocoa, but also on sustainability issues and their mutual relationship.

Dutch companies occupy a strong position on the international market, where they import and export, produce and process a wide range of agriculture products. At the same time, the Netherlands serves as a major trading and logistical hub in Europe and as a sresult is often dubbed the Gateway to Europe. These large trade-flows primarly pass through the ports of Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The combination of the Dutch playing a central position in the international trade and the trend towards developing sustainable value chains helped the Dutch build a wide range of experiences with sustainability initiatives in a number of agriculture value chains. Another consequence is that the Dutch accumulate a lot of experience with developing certification schemes and creating transparency for consumers. The presence of certifying agents (such as, UTZ CERTIFIED and Max Havelaar) and the rapid development of organic sector have also contributed to strengthening the Dutch position as frontrunners in the sustainability debate.

Finca La Amistad

Finca La Amistad

Where is the knowledge based?

The cocoa chain is an international production chain, with flows of money and cocoa streaming back and forth between businesse in different countries. Moreover, an ever increasing number of these businesse are multinational enterprises that cannot be pinned down to one country; they have offices, factories or warehouses all over the world. … Many Dutch companies are foreign owned and certain activities, like research and development, have been transferred out of the Netherlands to other countries. With regard to the availability, development and exchange of knowledge this means that:

  • strategic decisions about research are often taken abroad;
  • research and development centres are aminly based abroad;
  • the people with knowledge tend to depart for those locations with concentrated R&D.

There are very few Dutch players left. The Americans own De Zaan and Gerkens, Besndorp has become Belgium/French because it is owned by Barry Callebaut. De Baronie is the only independent chocolate factory, Verkade is English, and Droste is German. The Dutch chocolate industry is minute. The cocoa industry is present in the Netherlands, but if you look at those who make decisions and show the most activity, you see that they are located in the United States and Switzerland, not the Netherlands, not the head offices or research departments. So, in terms of logistics and processing the Netherlands is an important country but not in knowledge development and decision making. …

Although traditionally the private sector has played and continues to play a key role in knowledge development on commedies, other actors and supporters are also involved. For example the goverment also plays a role in maintaining private R&D facilities, which is to the benefit of surrounding SMEs and important in terms of employment. Knowledge on sustainable value chains does not only concern knowledge of ‘commodity chains’; it also connected to ‘Knowledge chains’ – from preschool education and lifelong learning to excellent scientific research and innovative enterprise. …

The Netherlands has a vibrant multistakeholders cocoa community, and the Dutch goverment is heavily involved in stimulating its development. For example, the Ministry of EL&I coordinates a multistakeholder platform, the National Cocoa Stakeholder Meetings (or ChocoWorkGroup), which brings together an ever growing number of Dutch representatives from industry, goverments, banks, NGOs, consultants, knowledge institutes, the Dutch Sustainable trade Initiatives (Initiatief Duurzaam Handel -IDH) and others. These stakeholders are firmly committed to the realisation of sustainable cocoa consumption in the Netherlands. This platform was created in response to the first Round Table for a Sustainable Cocoa Economy, which was held in Ghana. Meetings in the Netherlands are held on a regular basis and are attended by the diffrent stakeholders. In response to the second RT meeting, which took place in Trinidad & Tobago in 2009, the Dutch actors involved in the cocoa sector have translated the ten key elements into a national agenda for promoting sustainable cocoa, with a twofold goal:

  1. To guarantee sustainable cocoa consumption within a period of 15 years.
  2. To deliver a significant contribution to a global sustainable cocoa economy (people, planet, profit).

In addition, the ChocoWorkGroup has drawn up a National 10 Point Plan, which includes developing a global framework for sustainable cocoa, creating support for sustainable cocoa within the European Union, and developing a basis training package for farmers. An action point to consolidate the Dutch knowledge base on sustainable cocoa is also part of this plan.

Finca La Amistad

Finca La Amistad

IDH website

next time: Different roles in knowledge development

Thanks to Juan Pablo Buchert (Nahua) for the pictures.


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Chocolate Forever 3 Chapter 2

Chapter 2 Knowledge in sustainable value chains.

Finca La Amistad Costa Rica

Finca La Amistad Costa Rica

Already in antiquity, the philosopher Socrates questioned what knowledge is and how one should pursue it. Socrates devoted much of his efforts to defining words and concepts: his method was to pose questions. Like a three year-old child would repeat ‘why’ (e.g., Why is the sky blue?), Socrates repeated question after question until no further question could be asked. He claimed that there are two very different sorts of knowledge. One is the ordinary ‘trivial’ knowledge, which concern very specific (and ordinary) information, for example, the things we all know because we do them unconsciously. He claimed that having such knowledge does not give the holder any significant expertise or wisdom. The higher level knowledge could be described as definitional knowledge. In other words, if you can define a phenomenon it means that you understands ti, and this knowledge is superior to everyday ‘trivial’ knowledge.

Socrates’ contribution noted, Plato is usually credited as the founder of modern science and scientific thought. Plato asserted that a statement must meet three criteria to be considered knowledge: it must be justified (supported by evidence), true (in agreement with facts and reality), and believed. If one makes a claim, and another person questions it, then one would look for justification to convince the other person that his claim is true. Belief is knowledge if the belief is true and if the believer has a justification for believing it is true. Plato’s definition of knowledge necessitates that statements are justified by facts, which can be falsefied or validated. Today we refer to this systematic approach to knowledge simply as “science’. This approach also put scientific knowledge in another league from our common day-to-day knowledge and restricted the acces to this scientific league to only a fews select players: the scientists! As Sir Francis Bacon put it a century earlier, ‘knnowledge is power and those who know, rule the world’.

This brings us to the question how to pursue knowledge today. How is scientific knowledge related to what we knows from experience? How can we learn from practical knowledge? And if different kind of knowledge do co-exist, how can it be organised so it can be transferred from one type into the other? To put it in context of the topic of this publication, a cocoa grower could argue the following, ‘If I grow cocoa and obtain a good harvest, but cannot explain how I did it, then still you cannot say that I do not know how to grow cocoa.’

Finca La Amistad

Finca La Amistad

Agricultural knowledge systems

Previously it was believed that knowledge could only be generated by undertaking a scientific research processes, in particular in regard to agriculture. Farmers were practising agriculture in the same way as during previous generations, and researchers believed that improvements could only be achieved through a transfer of knowledge from science to thes farmers. In order to modernise agriculture, science had to test and validate innovations, which were transferred through a system of extension provision to the communities of farmers. The farmers only needed to apply this developed knowledge in order to obtain higher yields and better economic returns. If the farmers continued to live in poverty, they were either not suitable for the job or not yet linked into the extension system, the preferred responce being to simply expand the extension system.

This dominant model created and developed a worldwide system of agriculture research and extension services taht is today well established. In Europe and the USA, this model produced high input agriculture, which was based on the latest scientific knowledge. Besides industrial inputs, this type of agriculture was also very capital intensive, resulting in self-reinforcing economies of scale on farms and the pursuit of continuous innovation. The farmer’ crop yields began to approache the levels projected in scientific models and obtained in research stations under ideal conditions. However, also the negative side effects of this system became increasingly apparent. The cost of the environmental damage -tolerated during the post-war decades of the twentieth century- wre increasingly being transferred from society to the farmers. A new paradigm -‘the poluter pays’- was increasingly cut into the profitability of high-input agriculture.

The reputation of Western agriculture declined, and responce the demands to reduce the huge public subsidies that supported the agricultural sector were being appeased. In the Netherlands -a country known for its sophisticated agricultural research and extension system- public services to farmers were rapidly being downsized. The system was ‘privatised’, implying that now farmers and agribusiness had to take care of their own extension services and that researchnhad to be sponsored by the agricultural sector.

Finca La Amistad Costa Rica

Finca La Amistad Costa Rica

Meanwhile, the linear model between science and extension was being challenged by social scientist. They questioned the superiority of scientific knowledge, citing evidence that innovations can also emerge without science through human ingenuity and interaction. Does a community of Ghanian cocoa farmers not have the knowledge base for farming? Is indigenous and practice-based knowledge inferior to scientific knowledge? And, why is it that in spite of sophisticated scientific knowledge systems diversity in farms and farming practices persists? Are farmers just stubborn people or is there something else at play, which has equal value to scientific knowledge? A distinction can be made between different schools of thought. During the 1970s, Farming System research that referred to a farm as being more than the sum of its parts was developed. This approach considers the internal relationships between system components to define the level of its outputs: an insight that provided the space to acknowledge the farmers’ knowledge in effective handling of these interactions. Others focused more on the persistent diversity that exists in farling, whereby the dominant determining factor was the farmers’ knowledge and farm management skills. In this school of thought, different farm models can co-exist based on equally valuable rationale of human behaviour. In the Farming System school of though, science needs to study the rationale of these systems, but should continue developing knowledge based on an understanding what kind of knowledge required. The diversity school of though profoundly questions the role of scientific knowledge and emphasis the importance of social constructions and power relations. In this view, development does not come about through the application of scientific knowledge, but rather through social processes of empowerment and emancipation. Recently, approaches have emerged that do not try to define knowledge or engage in related rhetorical debates; rather they concentrate on design of effective modalities that can enhance the communication and knowledge exchanges between science, practitioners, and other stakeholders. Multi-stakeholders approaches and ‘innovation platforms’ are among these ways of creating and sharing knowledge and are yet to prove their value in terms of tangible results.

Finca La Amistad Costa Rica

Finca La Amistad Costa Rica

Knowledge for sustainable value chains

As the previous sections demonstrated, there is a considerable research effort (with multiple approaches) which aims to provide stakeholders with knowledge that can be applied to stimulate development. But how do value chain stakeholders -notably the privat sector- secure an adequate knowledge base and access to new knowledge?…Pursuing sustainability in value chains presents several dilemmas regarding knowledge generation and knowledge sharing. First of all, a diverse set of actors -public, civil, and privat- must come to a joint agreement about their joint intentions and ambitions. These parties are not accustomend to working with each other and act from the position of their own languauge, corprate culture, and other particulartities. One actor may have had a negative ewperience with another actor, or there may be a considerable conflict of interests. This implies that the terms for realising knowledge exchanges need to be negotiated and moderated prior to any effort to jointly build knowledge. This touches on anther dilemma that could impede the smoothness of the knowledge exchange process. The privat sector pursues competitive advantages in order to better position itself in the market. As demonstrated above, knowledge is a strategic ingredient of the company’s profile; therefore, sharing knowledge broadly across the value chain could be considered unnatural behavior for a company. Before effective exchanges can be expected, the pursuit of chain wide sustainability must firts deal with this conflict.

A third dilemma concerns the kind of knowledge needed for pursuing sustainability value chains. What do actors pursue when they have sustainability in mind? Is a ‘Socrates dialogue’ required for defining what is understood by sustainability? For example, one value chain actor could stress the need for technological development (e.g., disease-tolerant cocoa hybrids) while another actor could insist on studying fair-pricing mechanisms and consumer behaviour. How is it defined, or – the even more difficult question- who defines the agenda for knowledge generation? When particular actors have a dominant position in a value chain, setting the agenda for knnowledge generation becomes a political process, which may undermine the collective goal to improve the sustainability across the value chain.

Finca La Amistad Costa Rica

Finca La Amistad Costa Rica

Finally, there is a fourth dilemma: How can this useful knowledge be shared with larghe numbers of farmers, companies and their employees, and in the end consumers? Sharing knowledge on chain wide sustainability isseus requires a sound communication strategy. Reaching thousands of cocoa farmers (who may be illiterate) and informing even more Western consumers (who are overexposed to product information) is a monumental challenge that has no simple answer.  Such a challenge requires a process of identifying good practice at each step of the value chain. What are effective approaches for involving larghe numbers of farmers in improving quantity and quality of production? For example, can we apply the Farmers’ Field School approach to improve the susainability of the production process, and at the same time involve all types of farmers (small and largeh, male and female)? What can be learned from other initiatives (e.g., UTZ CERTIFIED, the Rainforest Alliance, and Max Havelaar)?

Clearly the primiminary conclusion is that the pursuit of sustainability in cocoa value chains requires a well designed knowledge management straregy. Central to this strategy is value-chain-wide learning from own practice and relevant experiences in other chains or sustainability initiatives. Joint learning requires the involvement of all parties and their commitment to share knowledge. This may seem as unnatural at firts, but there is ample eveidence that is mutually profitable in the end: it enhances the generic profile of the value chain and its consumer products. After all, philosophic thought has emphasised for millennia that a ‘good reputation is worth more than money’ (Publilius Syrus,100 B.C.).

By clarifying their position as knoledge holders on sustainable cocoa chain development, the Dutch can play a more signifivant and recognisable role in the international discussions on this important matter. In addiction, such an analysis supports the design of a knowledge management strategy that adequately addresses the global character of the cocoa sector and the diversity of chain actors and chain supporters.

Source: Chocolate Forever Dutch knowledge on sustainable cocoa.

Chapter 2 Knowledge in sustainable value chains by Bart de Steenhuijsen Piters.(Director Development Policy and Practice, Royal Tropical Institute.

Pictures thanks to Juan Pablo Butchert, Nahua, Finca La Amistad.


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Chocolate Forever 2

This book explores the knowledge needed for achieving a sustainable cocoa chain and the gatekeepers of thise knowledge. It tells the story mainly from a Dutch perspective, focusing on the knowledge needs of actors involved in cocoa in the Netherlands, and their knowledge partners.

…Fifteen years from now (…) cocoa beans will be transported in the most sustainable way: in mega-bulk ships sailing towards Amsterdam! The port of Amsterdam has introduced a reduced sea harbor tariff for certified beans, to further promote their production and use. Storage and trans-shipment of beans is being done in the most fficient way, as bulk cranes with energy efficient motors and innovative flywheels offload beans. The vermin in the warehouses is eradicated without using environmentally harmful substances. The space in the harbour is also being used as efficiently as possible; as many tonnes as possible have to be used per square meter for trans-shipment and storage. Transport from the warehouses to the processors mainly takes place on barges because of their low CO2 emission and contribution to reducing traffic jams (…)

This story illustrate the vision of James Hallworth, Commercial Manager Bulk Logistics at the Port of Amsterdam, who describing how the cocoa transport storage and trans-shipment in the Netherlands might look fifteen years from now. The Port of Amsterdam is the world’s largest cocoa harbour and the Region of Amsterdam (Zaanstreek) is home to the most complete cocoa network in the world.

This commitment raises a set of questions, regarding the kind of knowledge needed for achieving a sustainable cocoa chain and the gatekeepers of this knowledge. A sustainable cocoa chain involves a process of continuous improvement. How can one ensure that the right knowledge is being developed at the right moment and, in particular, that the available knowledge will be effectively used by the people who need it the most? One must take into consideration the different perspectives on sustainability of the cocoa chain, as well as the different interests covered by the ‘knowledge agenda’, i.e. whose interests are included and whose are left out?

The general aim of this publication on sustainable cocoa in the Netherlands is to examine the question of knowledge and the availability of expertise in the country, and to further compare Dutch cocoa knowledge with the knowledge in the broader international spere. This comparison will serve to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the Dutch cocoa knowledge infrastructure and to provide recommendations for improving its international position.

The publication: This book is part of a wider effort that seeks to achieve sustainable cocoa consuption in the Netherlands within fifteen years (Cocoa that will fall under sustainable cocoa includes for ex. certified organic cocoa, Fair Trade cocoa, Rainforest alliance, and cocoa certified by UTZ CERTIFIED) and to contibute to the global sustainable cocoa economy (people, planet profit). It examens the status of the Dutch knowledge sector and how it can strengthen its knowledge base.The publication aims to present all themes and questions in a way that will do justice to the complexity of the topic, without engaging in in-depth scientific analysis of the subject matter.

Structure of the publication: Chapter 2- Knowledge on sustainable value chains. Chapter 3- The position of the Dutch cocoa sector in the international cocoa chain. Chapter 4- The issues at stake. Chapter 5- Knowledge demand versus supply. Chapter 6- What do the Dutch know? Chapter 7- Recommendations for a sustainable knowledge base.



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Chocolate Forever 1 (Dutch knowledge on sustainable cocoa)

Deze titel staat op een uitermate interessant boek gekregen van Anna Laven tijdens het “Origin Chocolate Event” in het Koninklijk Internationaal Tropisch Instituut te Amsterdam van vorig jaar. Waarvoor mijn uiterste dank aan Anna Laven en Pim Pelders de schrijvers van het boek, financially support by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation
The title of an extremely interesting book received from Anna Laven during “Origin chocolate Event in Amsterdam last year at the Royal Tropical Institute.
Ik beloofde er te gaan uit bloggen op “Why do we love Chocolate”, en nu ik het uit heb, wil ik dit met plezier delen.
I promised to blog it on “Why do we love chocolate”, I would like to share this with pleasure.

c9a367_2012_12_28_cacao1This book explores the knowledge needed for achieving a sustainable cocoa chain and the gatekeepers of thise knowledge. It tells the story mainly from a Dutch perspective, focusing on the knowledge needs of actors involved in cocoa in the Netherlands, and their knowledge partners.

The Port of Amsterdam is the world’s largest harbour and Region of Amsterdam (Zaanstreek) is home to the most complete cocoa network in the world. The large economic importance of cocoa for the Dutch economy, and the role of the Dutch in the international cocoa chain, demands a strong knowledge infrastructure, one able to support the dynamic character of the Dutch cocoa cluster.

In responce to the extremely difficult economic circumstances faced by many cocoa farmers, and driven by the risks of future supply shortages worldwide, the cocoa sector is currently on the move. A multitude of public and private players, together with members of civil society, have joined forces to work on promoting sustainability in the cocoa sector.

Knowledge is essential for achieving this aim-not only sharing the knowledge required to make the processe sustainable, but also identifying the knowledge requirements of various stakeholders. In the Netherlands there is limited knowledge infrastructure taht supports knowledge development specified on cocoa. However, there is a strong potential for generating and sharing knowledge connected to sustainable cocoa, in particular due to existence of vibrant Dutch multistakeholder community involved in cocoa.

This effort to map the knowledge demand and available expertise in the Netherlands is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation. It contributes to implementation of the ChocoWorkGroup’s Sustainable Cocoa Actionplan that seeks to achieve sustainable cocoa consumption in the Netherlands within fifteen years and contribute to the global sustainable economy.



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