New research sets out how to achieve breakthrough impact to end cocoa farmer poverty

Women cocoa farmers harvesting cocoa pods in Côte d'Ivoire

New report from the Fairtrade - Mondelēz International Cocoa Life partnership outlines key learnings necessary to secure sustainable livelihoods for cocoa growers and communities.

  • A whole sector view is needed to address these issues and eliminate overlap in efforts.
  • Companies must mitigate farmer uncertainty through contractual security.
  • No one must be left behind, meaning initiatives must expand beyond cocoa farmers alone.

Ground-breaking new Fairtrade research reveals that if cocoa industry players work together to tackle worsening farmer poverty, they can create a step change for farmers.

The ‘Cocoa Sustainable Livelihoods Landscape Study’, a first of its kind report published as part of the Fairtrade - Mondelēz International Cocoa Life partnership, shows how the organisations are building an understanding of the drivers of resilient livelihoods for cocoa farmers, and tackling the root causes of the challenges farmers face.

Between them, Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana produce 60% of the world’s cocoa each year. It is a vital source of income for both countries and supports approximately 2 million farmers in the region. And yet the average cocoa farmer in these two countries lives on $1.50 or less each day.

The new report clearly shows that cocoa industry sustainability programmes set up to support cocoa farmers in West Africa must work more closely together to tackle farmer poverty. The total number of farmers reported to be targeted across all initiatives exceeds the estimated number of cocoa farmers present in the region by almost 800,000. Less than 50% of programmes combined claim to work with over 150% of farmers estimated in the country. Given that sustainable livelihood initiatives tend to target geographic areas with the highest quantities and quality of cocoa, this figure indicates that some farmers must be benefiting from multiple initiatives due to lack of coordination and duplication, whilst as many as 1.69 million could be left out, as they are not part of organised farmer co-operatives that coordinate these initiatives.

Furthermore, initiatives do not always reflect farmers’ priorities. Some assume that it is farmers alone who need to take action to improve their livelihoods, and make a limited effort to engage with or improve general market structures and processes. Recommendations on how to move beyond schemes that are focused solely on increasing productivity and incomes (currently the case for 83% of all existing initiatives) are ineffective without tackling broader market dynamics such as systemic lack of formal and longer-term contracts. Currently only 7% of all initiatives focus on these wider interconnected issues. As such, farmers must be put in the driving seat for the design of all new initiatives, to ensure a more wide-reaching approach.

The report identifies 92 sustainable livelihoods initiatives* in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana that are currently tackling the significant sustainability challenges of poverty, child labour and deforestation, which blight the cocoa industry. These are run or funded by companies including: Cargill, Olam, Barry Callebaut, Mars, Ferrero, Hershey, Mondelēz International, certifiers Utz and Fairtrade, and multi-funded programmes such as the Cocoa & Forests Initiative which includes donors such as the UK Government’s Department for International Development, the World Bank, and retailers including Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s. Despite this, the report found that the industry needs to collaborate more to avoid duplications and inefficiencies, and to ensure support reaches those most in need.

Louisa Cox, Director of Impact at the Fairtrade Foundation, said: 'We wanted to understand why - despite the huge industry wide investment in time and money from cocoa brands, traders and the Ghanaian and Ivorian Governments - the majority of cocoa farmers still live in poverty. Something is not working. How can we do things differently to ensure that the farmers growing the cocoa that enables chocolate lovers worldwide to continue to enjoy their favourite chocolate aren’t living in abject, worsening poverty? What will it take to create a change?'

To find answers to these questions, the research sought the views of farmers themselves. Fairtrade’s mapping showed there is some alignment between the priorities of those who run the programmes and their participants, such as on increasing incomes. However, it also found that farmers’ immediate priorities are not always the same as those addressed by the sector.

For example, whilst addressing climate change and forest preservation is a popular initiative for funders, farmers who were interviewed indicated that whilst they saw the importance of this work to maintain their harvests, they place greater importance on meeting more immediate needs such as feeding their families, and in community needs such as wells, solar energy, roads, schools and health centres.

As such, the report’s key recommendations for the cocoa sector are as follows:

  • Take a whole industry view to ensuring sustainable livelihoods for farmers, and address an overlap in sustainability programmes.
  • Companies must mitigate farmer uncertainty through contractual security. The gains that productivity increases bring to farmer livelihoods are quickly undermined by this uncertainty about who they will sell their cocoa to.
  • The sector should leave no one behind. Initiatives must tailor approaches to reach the needs of different groups of farmers and move beyond those farmers ready to professionalise, to youth, sharecroppers and labourers.

Cathy Pieters, Program Director, Cocoa Life, says: 'We believe that a sustainable cocoa supply begins with empowered cocoa farmers. However, as a sector all actors need to continue to work together to make this possible. Only by holding each other accountable in addressing the report’s findings can we hope to bring about change for cocoa farmers in the years to come – and in doing so lead transformation of the cocoa sector.'

What’s next

In 2020, Fairtrade will undertake a second phase of the research that will aim to define how all the different players – from governments, traders and brands, to cocoa unions and co-operatives – might best bring their collective skills and energies to the table to deliver a future where cocoa farmers and workers thrive.

During this phase, the research team will:

  1. Draw a roadmap for coordinated efforts in the sector and make partnerships more effective in achieving sustainable livelihoods for cocoa farming communities including the most marginalised.
  2. Provide key recommendations to Mondelēz International’s cocoa sustainability program Cocoa Life for innovative and inclusive interventions that will address systemic constraints in their supply chain.

The research team will also make sure the proposal is in line with farming communities’ needs by including in our design methodology a farmer-centric approach.

Cox concludes: 'We encourage others in the sector to implement changes based on this report’s learnings. If we all work more closely together, we can transform the cocoa sector, and create a movement for lasting change.'

-Ends –


For more information, interviews, please contact martine.parry@fairtrade.org.uk, Tel: 07886 301486.

See Cocoa Sustainable Livelihoods Landscape Study

See Cocoa Sustainable Livelihoods Landscape Study summary

Download the report and accompanying images on dropbox 

Notes to editors

This report is a critical review of initiatives across the cocoa sector that aim to achieve sustainable livelihoods for cocoa farmers and their communities in West Africa, authored by Fairtrade’s MEL team, researchers Antonio Capillo and Naomi Somerville-Large. This landscape study was commissioned by Mondelēz International through Cocoa Life, and led by the Fairtrade Foundation; it used a mixed methods research approach combining desk research with qualitative interviews and field research in Ghana’s cocoa communities.

About Fairtrade

The international Fairtrade system exists to end poverty through trade. The Fairtrade Foundation is an independent certification body and NGO which licenses the use of the FAIRTRADE Mark on more than 5,000 products which meet its rigorous social, economic and environmental standards. This independent label signifies to consumers that farmers and workers across 73 developing countries are getting a better deal from trade.

Today, more than 1.6 million people who work hard to produce coffee, tea, cocoa, bananas, wines, flowers, cotton, gold and many other products benefit from Fairtrade, which campaigns for as well as enables a fairer system of global trade.

Beyond certification, the Fairtrade Foundation is deepening its impact by delivering specialist programmes to help disadvantaged communities boost productivity in the face of challenges such as climate change. 

About Mondelēz International

Mondelēz International, Inc. (NASDAQ: MDLZ) empowers people to snack right in over 150 countries around the world. With 2019 net revenues of approximately $26 billion, MDLZ is leading the future of snacking with iconic global and local brands such as OREO, belVita and LU biscuits; Cadbury Dairy Milk, Milka and Toblerone chocolate; Sour Patch Kids candy and Trident gum. Mondelēz International is a proud member of the Standard and Poor’s 500, Nasdaq 100 and Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Visit Mondelez's website or follow the company on Twitter.

About Cocoa Life

Cocoa Life is Mondelēz International’s global cocoa sustainability program. Cocoa is the essence of our chocolate and vital to our business, so we aim to ensure it is ‘made right’. Making it right means tackling the complex challenges that cocoa farmers and their communities face, including climate change, gender inequality, poverty and child labor. Cocoa Life is addressing these challenges holistically across six cocoa-growing countries: Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Indonesia, Dominican Republic, India and Brazil. We work on the ground, hand-in-hand with the men and women who make their living from cocoa, focusing on where we can make a difference: making cocoa farming a sustainable business, creating empowered communities and conserving and restoring forests. To find out more visit Cocoa Life's website.

* Having excluded a further 100 not meeting research inclusion criteria.