Government support sets CocoaAction apart from previous schemes, World Cocoa Foundation said

Government support sets CocoaAction apart from previous schemes, World Cocoa Foundation said

The cocoa sector has arguably spawned more than its fair share of sustainability initiatives and programmes. Ben Cooper asks Bill Guyton, president of the World Cocoa Foundation, what sets the recently-launched CocoaAction, a plan aimed at "building a rejuvenated and economically viable cocoa sector", apart from what has gone before.

If sustainability were measured by the number of organisations and initiatives convened or launched with the noble aim of underpinning and improving a sector's fortunes, cocoa would be among the most healthy and flourishing of agricultural commodity markets.

From the International Cocoa Agreement, the International Cocoa Organization and the Alliance of Cocoa Producing Countries to the Harkin-Engel Protocol, the International Cocoa Initiative and the World Cocoa Foundation, there appears to be an inexhaustible litany of impressive sounding sets of initials. And that is before all the company-specific and national organisations and platforms are taken into account.

Of course, flourishing is certainly not the word that comes to mind when contemplating the cocoa supply chain. 

Global cocoa production will have to rise by 1m tonnes by 2020 to meet rising demand and the sector, particularly the west African supply chain that accounted for around 55% of the 4m tonnes of cocoa produced in 2012/13, is already creaking in trying to meet current needs. 

In fact, cocoa production has fallen for the past three years. According to International Cocoa Organization figures, production declined from a record 4.3m tonnes in 2010/11, to 4.1m tonnes in 2011/12, and further to an estimated 3.9m tonnes for 2012/13.

In that context, 12 major cocoa and chocolate companies have this month launched CocoaAction, a programme comprising productivity enhancements for farmers and community investment, developed in close collaboration with national governments. Signatories include Archer Daniels Midland, Armajaro, Barry Callebaut, Cargill, Ferrero, Hershey, Mars Inc, Mondelez International and Nestle.

Bill Guyton, president of the World Cocoa Foundation, which is co-ordinating the CocoaAction programme, stresses the "co-creation" of the initiative with host governments as a key attribute that sets CocoaAction apart.

Describing the programme as a "strategic framework for moving forward in Africa", Guyton adds the signatories wanted to make sure CocoaAction was "aligned with the host governments plans for the cocoa sector, and that makes it different". 

However, while Guyton emphasises the importance the CocoaAction partners have placed on fitting in with "the strategic plans of the African partners", at the launch phase, there is a greater emphasis on Ghana than on Cote d'Ivoire.

The plan has already involved signing a joint agreement with the Government of Ghana, but no comparable agreement with the government of Cote d'Ivoire was announced at this stage.

The Ghana Cocoa Board has said CocoaAction will "complement the efforts of Ghana Cocoa Board towards its productivity and livelihood enhancement programmes, which will improve the well-being of our cocoa farmers and secure a sustainable supply of cocoa". 

The CocoaAction signatory companies will work closely with the Ghanaian government to provide improved planting materials, fertilizers and training to cocoa farmers, while promoting community development, notably through education and child labour monitoring. Guyton also stresses the measurement and assessment procedures being built into the programme.

He says the emphasis on Ghana stems from the governments being at different stages in their own cocoa strategies. "One of the things we've learnt through this exercise is that each country is different. In Cote d'Ivoire there already is a national plan in place, and they wanted to see how CocoaAction helps to support what they are already doing. In the case of Ghana they have had a national strategy in the past and they are in the process right now of developing a new one, so they are at different stages right now in their strategic thinking about the sector."

However, he stresses that both the Ghanaian and Cote d'Ivoire governments were involved in the development of the CocoaAction programme - and that the alignment between the private sector and government is a defining feature of the initiative. 

"We realise that the success of this strategy really hinges on the fact that it really has to be aligned with the governments. Otherwise it can't succeed." It is also envisaged in due course CocoaAction will be extended to other cocoa-producing countries.

Co-ordination between the signatory companies is also a key facet of the new programme. Guyton describes the co-operation achieved between the companies as "a huge step forward".

CocoaAction, he continues, allows an "exchange of information, looking at what different companies are doing on the ground, taking the best of that and combining that together, to see how we can take the best elements of one programme, the best elements of another, and bring them together for the benefit of the farmer".

Guyton adds: "And I think that's another difference or distinction with CocoaAction: that it is farmer-centric, because at the end of the day if the farmer's not doing better we all have failed. We've got to make sure that the farmers have the necessary knowledge, the necessary tools to be productive cocoa farmers."

While there are no NGO signatories to the CocoaAction plan, Guyton says there have been "strategic discussions with NGO stakeholders", particularly with regard to community investment. He also anticipates more engagement with NGOs as the programme moves into the implementation stage. 

He also states a number of other companies have already approached the World Cocoa Foundation with a view to joining the CocoaAction programme, "and we are keen to welcome them".

While some might say the parlous state of the cocoa supply chain reflects the failure of interventions to date, it could equally be said the existence of so many programmes simply speaks to the scale and multi-layered nature of the problems, and the host of solutions and interventions that is required to put things right.

With that in mind, CocoaAction should arguably be welcomed as another important step towards a sustainable future for cocoa. However, the plethora of programmes means there have been plenty of false dawns in this sector. The launch of another initiative can only be viewed as the setting-out of good intentions, however well conceived the programme may appear to be, something Guyton freely acknowledges.

"There's a lot of goodwill, and now comes a lot of hard work to implement this and make sure it's a success."