Tag Archives: cocoa

A story about cocoa doctors – and a few lost surgeons

It is 32 degrees, and the humidity must at least be 70 percent. One minute outside is enough to make you sweat like a waterfall. At this point, we have been outside for 20 minutes and I have started to embrace my state of sweatiness. Or at least, I am trying to, while counting the hours to my next shower. To add to my discomfort: we have just been given plastic gloves and a mask, to protect our skin and lungs from any chemicals. Let me tell you: plastic gloves and sweaty hands are not a charming combination.

UTZ team at the Mars Academy Indonesia, 2015

UTZ team at the Mars Academy Indonesia, 2015

My 8 colleagues and I are guests at the Mars Academy in Tarengge, Sulawesi, Indonesia for a five day training. We are taught about Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) in cocoa farming, such as pruning, fertilization, harvesting, pest & disease control (including spraying), and more. As most of us work in the UTZ office in Amsterdam, this is a wonderful opportunity to get more practical experience in the field, and it surely paid off.

Today’s topic: Pest & Disease Control on cocoa trees, or to be more specific: pesticide spraying. After all the ingredients and water are safely mixed (in an area solely used for this purpose, far from a source of drinking water), our instructor puts on his safety clothes to give us the demonstration we have been waiting for. He was already wearing gloves and a mask. His mask looks like a gas mask, while our masks make us seem to be a bunch of out-of-place surgeons. Our instructor is now adding more layers to his already warm clothes (jeans and long-sleeve shirt): plastic pants, high welly boots, a rain coat, safety goggles, and a hat – over which he puts the hood of his rain coat. With each layer he puts on, my self-pity evaporates.

Pest & Disease Control on cocoa trees

Pest & Disease Control on cocoa trees

So this is what it really means for farmers to safely spray their crop – and they do this between 10 and 22 times per year without missing any of the many layers. For a tropical country like Indonesia with two seasons (basically: hot and dry, or hot and wet), that must not be an easy task. Five minutes in my gloves was enough discomfort to make me truly relieved when I can take them off again – imagine wearing this suit, and spraying your crop, tree for tree, hectare for hectare.

Needless to say, this trip has been truly inspirational for us. Mars has set up their own training program for farmers here in Indonesia: the Cocoa Development Center in Tarengge trains Cocoa Doctors, who will set up a Mars Cocoa Village Center (CVC) in their villages. These cocoa doctors are in turn responsible to share their knowledge and skills with farmers in their villages in order to improve their Good Agricultural Practices: increasing their productivity, yields, and thereby their income. In this respect, there is quite some overlap with the UTZ program, although our Code of Conduct for farmers includes control points on economic, environmental and social criteria that are not part of the Mars program.

For 4,5 days we learned about the importance of soil quality and how to improve it, made compost, sanitized trees (freed them from pests and infections), pruned trees, harvested cocoa pods, visited a Mars Cocoa Buying Station where the beans are sold, learned grafting on a cocoa seedling, and much more.

Anne Manschot, Senior Program and Member Support Coordinator at UTZ

Anne Manschot, Senior Program and Member Support Coordinator at UTZ

This experience has helped us to much better understand the realities on the field and the challenges for farmers – something you can never fully grasp from your desk in our (however beautiful) office in Amsterdam. Take pesticide spraying, for example. Did you know that a farmer loses around 30-50%  of his harvest due to pest and diseases when no control is applied? And around 10% when certain control is applied? This is why UTZ promotes Integrated Pest Management and works closely together with producers to find appropriate alternatives to pest control. Needless to say, part of the deal is that you are only allowed to spray when wearing protective clothing – no matter how uncomfortable they are in the sweltering heat.

October 2015 – Anne Manschot, Senior Program and Member Support Coordinator at UTZ Certified.

2014: International Year of Family Farming

The United Nations has made 2014 the International Year of Family Farming. Around 500 million people worldwide directly depend on family farming for their livelihoods, and family farmers are responsible for more than half of all global agricultural production.

The photographs below offer an insight into the lives of UTZ certified cocoa farmers from Côte d’Ivoire, where there are many thousands of small family run cocoa farms. Most UTZ certified cocoa comes from farms that are smaller than two hectares.

Cocoa farming faces many challenges – which you can read about in our previous blogs – but sustainability programs like UTZ Certified have a big role to play in enabling farmers to create better opportunities for themselves and their children.

Click on the photos to open a slideshow and find out more about family farming in Côte d’Ivoire.

All photos taken by Nabil Zorkot. Copyright UTZ Certified.

Losing the bitter after taste

Over the last couple of weeks, a video has been going around on social media that shows cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast apparently tasting chocolate for the first time.

The video has reached and touched many viewers and is a powerful way to let more people know about a stark reality. Cocoa farmers do not earn much from their trade. In fact they earn barely enough to live on, to support a family and pay a decent wage to workers, let alone to buy things like chocolate bars.

Understanding this reality is essential when you consider one of the darkest sides of the industry: child labor. For a long time, child labor has been a fact of life in much of the cocoa industry. Families feel that they need the extra labor on their farm, and studies have also shown major problems with people trafficking and the exploitation of migrant workers.

However, efforts are underway to change this situation. The prohibition and prevention of child labor is a vital part of the UTZ program. In 2014 we introduced new requirements that include even more measures to prevent child labor. All farmers have to receive awareness raising on the issue, and there will now be local community representatives with specific responsibility for stopping child labor. On a broader level, the UTZ program enables farmers to increase their productivity, and therefore to increase their incomes – reducing the need for children to support their parents in the fields.

UTZ is having a rapidly increasing positive impact on the industry. In 2013, 13% of all the cocoa produced globally was UTZ certified. When you also consider the other major sustainability programs that figure goes up to almost a quarter of the world total – a major achievement.

Of course, certification programs are not the only actors here. We’re talking about an incredibly complex situation, where infrastructure, health and education services, and government policy all play a vital role. Even on a certified farm, it is never possible to guarantee 100% that no children ever work there. To fully eradicate child labor, a powerful coalition of all stakeholders – including local communities and governments – needs to work together.

In addition, while the percentage of cocoa that is sustainably produced is quickly going up, we do need to see more demand for sustainable cocoa from the major chocolate companies. We’re pleased that so many of our partners have already made major commitments to scale up their sourcing of certified, sustainable cocoa over the coming years.

What we are striving for is a world where cocoa farming offers a sustainable livelihood; a world where no child is forced to work, but can go to school instead. In other words, a world where sustainable farming is the norm.

If you want to know more about the efforts UTZ undertakes to prohibit and prevent child labor, please read our position paper available on our website.

By Britta Wyss Bisang, Standards Director at UTZ Certified

Prosperity for cocoa-farmers: just around the corner?

Cocoa governments: let’s work together to bring greater prosperity to farmers

Côte d'Ivoire 2014Poverty is widespread amongst cocoa farmers, a hurting reality I witnessed during my last trip to Ivory Coast. The larger part of the sector consists of smallholder farmers who struggle to make a living from their mostly unproductive plots. This has led to farmers abandoning cocoa farms and focusing on rubber or palm oil instead, because those seem to be more profitable to them. At the same time, we are all aware that demand for cocoa is predicted to rise 30% by 2020.

Clearly, the future of the cocoa sector cannot be built on current unsustainable business practices and poverty of farmers. We cannot have a chocolate industry valued in billions of dollars and a farmer going to bed with an empty belly.

Over the last few years, action has been taken to make the sector sustainable by the industry, NGOs, certification programs and local governments. Today, everyone involved in the cocoa industry can be proud that over 20% of cocoa production is certified as sustainable.

Certification programs have been shown to result in improving environmental protection, increasing access to education and obtaining higher yield per hectare. But certification is not the silver bullet to bring prosperity to cocoa farmers. Still, the majority of cocoa smallholders are trapped in poverty. More needs to be done to increase prosperity at farmer level.

There are several factors that need to be addressed.

Firstly, productivity per hectare needs to be increased while maintaining soil quality and using water efficiently. Secondly, the farmer should be helped to diversify production, even at the risk of reducing the total cocoa production: since farmers with no alternative will sell at any price, alternatives can help to better manage the future incomes and spread risks. Finally, sustainable practices have to be fairly rewarded by the industry; certified production deserves a better price for the farmer over unsustainable products.

But governments must take up their roles for a sustainable sector as well: national plans in origin countries can be the glue to bring together the efforts of all the players. They are of vital importance to enhance political stability, improve infrastructure, set environmental policies and establish health and education services. These are things the communities and industry need, but cannot provide, so governments need to come on board.

International certification standards can help by sharing experience and continuing to train farmers on sustainable good agricultural practices, boosting the discussion on living wages and continuing to stimulating international markets to buy certified sustainable cocoa.

In the years after the great depression the United States president Herbert Hoover told the American people “prosperity is just around the corner.” But it wasn’t. Perhaps Hoover was misinformed about the crisis. Nowadays, we are better informed about the challenges ahead than before. The unsustainable production and striking poverty in the cocoa sector requires taking action. Although it will not be an easy process, we are ready to help.

By Han de Groot, Executive Director at UTZ Certified