TFT recently held a conference in Paris about the French supply of cocoa from West Africa. The event covered the problems of cultivating cocoa, and some solutions to improve producers’ livelihoods and resource management. Shruti Choudhary explains more.
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As an outsider to TFT’s work I felt lucky to attend the conference and to hear CIRAD’s, TFT Ivory Coast’s, Les Mousquetaires’ and CEMOI’s unique perspectives on cocoa production. The stories that moved me the most were about Ivorian smallholders’ challenges when navigating cocoa production and striving to make a living.
Of these challenges, in addition to plant disease and climate shocks, the average age of cocoa producers is increasing, with young people leaving the plantations in search of more steady and lucrative employment in cities. Many smallholders rely on cocoa as their only source of income, which as a seasonal crop leaves producers struggling financially for half the year.
Certification schemes are also impacting Ivorian producers – when smallholders join co-operatives to sell their cocoa as certified, there are often limits on the amount that cocoa producers can sell to the co-operative, despite having land that could produce more. TFT West Africa showed a video of interviews with producers, who explained that they would rather increase their yield than be guaranteed a price by a co-operative specifying a low production level.
A deeper understanding of the varied challenges that cocoa producers face is required, and this is what TFT and CEMOI’s Cocoa Transparency Programme is working on.
In the first phase of the project TFT’s field technicians live in the smallholders’ communities, seeking to understand every aspect of producers’ lives related to cocoa production.
I was impressed by the organisation’s depth of engagement, something that TFT’s Aboudakar Touré highlighted by showing photos at plantation level where it was impossible to tell farmer from field technician. Further, from chocolatier CEMOI’s perspective Cocoa Transparency offers a tool to map the 60,000 cocoa plantations that it sources from and to improve the quality of cocoa produced.
Like TFT’s Rurality programme, Cocoa Transparency seeks to establish the idea of the farmer as an entrepreneur and a professional. Bastien Sachet closed the conference by discussing the importance of transparency and the challenge of communicating the complexity of production to the consumer.
TFT’s Transparency Hub, a public-facing platform detailing the organisation’s work on products around the world, is one response to this. Overall, the conference was important in starting a conversation across the French-African cocoa supply chain, a conversation that should be continued to support TFT’s meaningful work in West Africa.