Chocolate manufacturers and NGOs have announced a new initiative to try to improve cocoa productivity and the lives of farmers in west Africa.

The World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) have formed the African Cocoa Initiative (ACI), a partnership to invest in sustainable cocoa programmes in the region.

The ACI is a five-year, US$13.5m programme that will take place in Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon and Nigeria to develop cooperative investments in agriculture, improve quality and productivity, expand farmer education and training and improve the supply chains.

Private-sector funding comes from WCF member companies that include Barry Callebaut, Cargill, Kraft Foods and Nestle.

"We look forward to this key public-private partnership which will benefit smallholder cocoa growers in West Africa," Margaret Enis, director of the office of markets, partnerships and innovation at the USAID Bureau for Food Security, said.

"We view our private-sector partners as thought leaders who can bring crucial feedback, a fresh perspective, and innovative insights to the development table."