Cocoa Farmer World Cocoa Foundation
Cocoa farmers dry cocoa beans. Photo provided by the World Cocoa Foundation. 

Senior executives from 12 of the world's largest chocolate and cocoa companies are signing a joint agreement with Ghana as part of an unprecedented strategy to work toward making cocoa farming in the country sustainable.

The plan, known as CocoaAction, calls for building a rejuvenated and economically viable cocoa sector through increased cooperation between industry members and the Ghanaian government.

Under the auspices of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), which will act as the convener for the group and facilitate the implementation of the industry-wide strategy, CocoaAction seeks to build a rejuvenated and economically viable cocoa sector for at least 300,000 cocoa farmers — 200,000 in Côte d’Ivoire and 100,000 in Ghana — and the communities where they live by 2020.  

By voluntarily working together as an industry, the strategy aims to increase the impact of the cocoa industry’s numerous sustainability programs.  

Barry Parkin, WCF's newly-appointed chairman and chief sustainability officer at Mars, Inc., says the agreement represents one of the most significant steps the sector is taking to make cocoa sustainable.

"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,” he explains. “While it represents a new way for the industry to work with origin countries, it also builds on the strong existing relationships with them.”

CocoaAction was carefully and voluntarily developed by the companies in cooperation with the governments of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, the world's top cocoa-producing countries.  

The two countries provide about 55 percent of the world's current cocoa supply.

CocoaAction will later be extended to other cocoa-producing countries and is already open to participation by others in the public and private sectors that support sustainability in the cocoa sector.

"CocoaAction focuses on providing farmers with the necessary 'full package' of training and inputs needed to operate successful farms, while advancing the communities in which they live,” says WCF President Bill Guyton. “It brings together the best elements of individual company programs, which can now be shared and scaled up."

Through CocoaAction, the companies will work closely with the Ghanaian government and other national institutions to provide improved planting materials, fertilizer and training to cocoa farmers.

The program also will promote community development through education, child labor monitoring and remediation, and activities to enhance gender empowerment.  

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

Companies that have voluntarily committed to CocoaAction include the following: ADM; Armajaro; Barry Callebaut; Blommer Chocolate Co.; Cargill; Ecom; Ferrero; The Hershey Co.; Mars, Inc.; Mondelez International; Nestlé; and Olam International Ltd.

Terence O’Day, senior v.p. and chief supply chain officer at Hershey, says a reliable, sustainable supply of ethically grown cocoa is vital to Hershey and the global chocolate and cocoa industry.

“[It] is the best way to ensure consumers will enjoy delicious, affordable and sustainable cocoa,” he explains. “It’s a major breakthrough for key members of the industry to come together and work as a group to solve the challenges facing cocoa farming in West Africa and achieve our mutual sustainability objectives.”   

And, Andrew Harner, Mars’ global cocoa v.p., believes the company is happy to join its industry colleagues in supporting the effort.  

“We believe this sector-wide alignment of objectives, commitment of resources, and sharing of best practices is exactly the type of transformative initiative the sector requires,” he says.

A FAQ document about CocoaAction is available at the WCF website.