A handful of Cocoa beans being held up above a large bag of beans

Three reasons to be excited about our partnership with Mars

By Taryn Holland, Head of Programs at Fairtrade Foundation

Today, Mars, Fairtrade and ECOOKIM – a collection of cocoa farming co-operatives in Côte d’Ivoire – announced plans to deepen their partnership, through an innovative $10m program to raise farmer incomes. This program is novel, experimental and ambitious – it’s also urgently needed. Taryn Holland, Head of Programs at Fairtrade Foundation, picks out three elements of this partnership to look out for.

1. Farmers are at the heart of our work together

Fairtrade first started working together with ECOOKIM farmers and Mars over two years ago, to identify the most effective ways to raise cocoa farmers’ incomes and help farming households thrive. Farmers themselves know better than anyone else both the challenges they face – such as climate change and long-term low prices – as well as the sorts of solutions that can best tackle these challenges.

As a collective of several cocoa farming co-operatives, ECOOKIM have been perfectly placed to represent the needs, views and experiences of their members in this context. It’s why I’m delighted that they have strongly contributed to the design of the new Livelihoods Ecosystem Advancement Program (LEAP) – an innovative five-year partnership between Fairtrade, Mars Wrigley and ECOOKIM, which is centred around farmers’ voices and engagement at all levels.

It’s vital that farmers are actively involved in shaping, owning and implementing programs that affect their lives and livelihoods. By working so closely with ECOOKIM the program has been designed with the needs of cocoa farmers in mind: farmers like Mile and Digbeu.

Mile is 62 years old, and grows around two tonnes of cocoa per year, supplemented by maize, chilis and cassava four. She’s a widow with five children and has a house to run, alongside farming. She is determined, experienced and organised, but time poor.

By contrast, Digbeu has a large family farm that grows five tonnes of cocoa per year, but generates less income beyond cocoa farming. He has also experienced issues with maintaining the crops on his farm, in the face of climate change.

Because no two farmers are the same, the LEAP approach will support different types of farmers with tailored packages to move towards a living income, regardless of their starting position. This means developing bespoke support for farming families depending on individual farm size, productivity levels, and income earned from beyond cocoa farming. We want to meet farmers like Mile and Digbeu where they’re at, rather than providing one-size-fits-all solutions.

2. Building on Fairtrade sourcing

Mars have been sourcing Fairtrade certified cocoa from ECOOKIM for many years, with products in the UK including Maltesers and Mars bars proudly bearing the Fairtrade Mark. Mars will continue to source cocoa on Fairtrade terms from ECOOKIM, and make additional investments that help improve farmer incomes even further over the long term.

LEAP has been designed as a ‘market-systems’ program. The program will tackle barriers that prevent farmer incomes from growing, investing into the wider ‘market ecosystem’ within which they operate, and improving the business services and supporting functions they can choose to access over time.

In practical terms, we’ll be focusing investment into strengthening the capacity of ECOOKIM and participating co-operatives to provide their members with best-in-class technical support, as well as good value agricultural resources such as fertiliser to improve farm performance. We will also be investing in digital solutions to improve farmers’ access to finance, as well as exploring ways which incomes, beyond cocoa, can be advanced both on and beyond the farm.

3. Sharing and embracing lessons 

LEAP is deliberately dynamic, meaning that we’ll look to adjust our approach in line with evidence of impact and farmer feedback. We will look to make changes in real-time, sharing what we’re learning with peers in the sector as we go, and incorporating good practice from elsewhere, based on evidence of success. By sharing the lessons along the way, we’ll raise visibility of both the challenges confronted and evidence of successes that can be scaled to other farming households over time.

Just as no two farmers are the same, no two partnerships are the same either.

Having worked with ECOOKIM and Mars for the last two years to pull together our farmer-centric approach to improving incomes, we’re so excited to finally get started together.

A female farming leader at the forefront of the program, Aminata Bamba, Head of Sustainability for Fairtrade co-operative ECOOKIM, said: ’For us, Fairtrade is not just a certification, it means so much more for farmers. Fairtrade helps pull producers out of poverty. It means a woman can flourish because she knows her rights, she can earn extra money to support the family and pay for school fees, she can buy medicines when her child is sick. All the changes we’ve made are thanks to the Fairtrade Premium, so it’s important that consumers continue to enjoy Fairtrade chocolate. We’re so excited to announce the next steps in our journey with Fairtrade and Mars.’

Mike Gidney, Chief Executive, Fairtrade Foundation, said: ‘We believe that all farmers should get the incomes their hard work deserves, and we know new approaches are needed. By investing in strengthening cocoa co-operatives, widening access to finance, and supporting farmers in diversifying their incomes, together, we hope to achieve deeper impact for farming households.’

To track our progress together, be sure to check out our Partnership page where we’ll be posting farmer stories and key insights in the years to come:

Fairtrade and Mars – Livelihoods Ecosystem Advancement Program (LEAP)

Find out more