Hershey, Mars and Nestle – plus cocoa suppliers Barry Callebaut and Cargill – are among 12 companies to set up a new industry initiative to “accelerate” efforts to make farming in west Africa “more sustainable”.

The manufacturers have joined forces to form CocoaAction, a programme the companies hope will encourage the industry to work closer together to increase productivity and improve the livelihoods of farmers in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.

Brand owners and cocoa suppliers have developed their own initiatives in recent years to try to improve the sustainability of the cocoa supply chain. Nestle has its Cocoa Plan, Mars its Sustainable Cocoa Initative and Barry Callebaut has developed its Cocoa Horizons scheme.

The new CocoaAction programme, announced on Tuesday (20 May), will see the companies set up common targets and share ways of tackling the issue, according to Barry Parkin, the chief sustainability officer at Mars and newly-appointed chairman of the World Cocoa Foundation.

“This agreement represents one of the most significant steps the sector is taking to make cocoa sustainable,” Parkin said. “This alignment of objectives, commitment of resources, and sharing of best practices is the type of transformative initiative that will really help farmers become more productive and secure the future of cocoa. While it represents a new way for the industry to work with origin countries, it also builds on the strong existing relationships with them.”

The World Cocoa Foundation, an industry organisation that represents 80% of the cocoa sector, will co-ordinate the CocoaAction scheme, which claims it will benefit around 300,000 farmers in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana.

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By GlobalData

Farmers will receive planting materials, fertiliser and training. CocoaAction will also look to help local communities develop through education and, crucially, the monitoring of child labour, the companies said.

A series of indicators, being developed by WCF, will accompany the strategy to allow companies and governments to measure the progress of the scheme.

The programme has won the backing of government officials. Sangafowa Coulibaly, Cote d’Ivoire’s minister of agriculture, said: “Cote d’Ivoire is very pleased that the private sector has decided to coordinate its cocoa sustainability efforts to support those of the Ivorian government.”