Creating a sustainable cocoa sector that will meet the demands of the chocolate industry and improve the livelihoods of farmers will require “billions of dollars” of investment, Mars Inc has warned.

The Maltesers manufacturer said the industry “must work together” to build on recent individual investment from chocolate makers, better the economic prospects of farmers and improve yields, without “compromising” limited natural resources.

“The best approach to cocoa sustainability is to partner with our industry peers, governments, certification organizations and NGOs for the common good,” said Barry Parkin, head of Mars’ global chocolate procurement and sustainability. “The billions of dollars of investment needed requires the large global manufacturers to work together to make this happen at meaningful scale.  We can see that the industry is taking this challenge very seriously, as there is a lot of good work happening, but we strongly believe that all of these efforts can be combined as part of a sector-wide effort to achieve the results we all want to see.”

Parkin’s comments came as Mars revealed it had spent US$30m on “cocoa sustainability” in 2011. The US group said it would “likely match” that investment each year for the next decade.

Earlier this year, Mars said it had met its 2011 goal of buying 10% of its cocoa supply as certified sustainable. The company claims in 2012 it will exceed its original target of 20%, meaning, it says, it wll be the largest user of certified cocoa in the world. Based on current buying arrangements, Mars projects that this will be nearly 90,000 metric tons of certified cocoa this year.

In 2009, Mars pledged to move its entire cocoa supply to certified sustainable cocoa sources by 2020, when, the company estimates, demand for the commodity will outstrip supply by 1m metric tonnes.

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“Revitalising the cocoa sector for the world’s five to six million cocoa farmers will likely require billions of dollars of investment over the next ten years – everybody in the industry will have to do their part,” said Andrew Harner, Mars’ global cocoa vice president. “Reaching farmers at scale requires significant financial investment, innovative programmes, and industry cooperation.”

Consumer interest in sustainable cocoa means chocolate manufacturers have switched some brands to Fairtrade or Rainforest Alliance certification.

Earlier this year, Mars launched Fairtrade-certified Maltesers into UK stores. In 2010, the company placed the Rainforest Alliance logo on its Galaxy bars on sale in the UK and Ireland.

Cadbury Dairy Milk and Nestle’s Kit Kat also carry the Fairtrade mark in the UK.