Food group Kraft and the Rainforest Alliance have joined forces in a pilot project in Ecuador which will link five co-operatives, comprising 2,000 members, to one of the world's largest cocoa purchasers.

If the project is successful, cocoa from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms could eventually be used in the production of Kraft's chocolate brands which include Toblerone, Milka, Cote d'Or, Marabou, Daim, and Suchard. Initially, the company has committed to purchase 50 tonnes of Certified cocoa per month.

Tensie Whelan, Rainforest Alliance executive director, said: "This is a landmark moment in a ten-year journey to help cocoa farmers break free from poverty and to win some stability for their struggling communities."

"There are a great many challenges ahead," said Annemieke Wijn, senior director of commodity sustainability programmes for Kraft Foods. "But there is already ten years of solid experience behind the Rainforest Alliance programme in cocoa, and we are confident that together we can export lessons and the hope from these increasingly successful cooperatives to other parts of the world."

Ecuador was once the world's premier cocoa-producing nation, but rising demand prompted farmers to switch from native shade-grown beans to a low-quality hybrid that grows quickly in open fields with full sun and intensive chemical use, resulting in deforestation and destruction of wildlife habitat.