As consumers become increasingly interested in the origins and sustainability credentials of their food, companies like Nestlé are taking important steps to improve economic and social conditions for the cocoa farming communities.
Nestlé, one of the biggest global users of cocoa, has set out an ambitious global Cocoa Plan to improve the lives of cocoa workers. In the UK the Cocoa Plan launched at the end of 2009 with the announcement that 4 finger Kit Kat® has been certified Fairtrade in the UK and Ireland.
The Cocoa Plan, which launched in October 2009, represents a £65 million investment over the next 10 years in programmes to address the key economic, social and environmental issues facing cocoa farming communities. Focusing predominantly on the Ivory Coast, the worlds largest cocoa producing country, the aim of The Cocoa Plan is to use Nestlés agricultural and scientific know-how to improve the quality and yield of cocoa plants, offer farmer training and education and improve the social conditions for farmers and their communities.
Nestlé has been working in the Ivory Coast, also one of the poorest countries in the world, for over 50 years and has pioneered techniques to produce higher quality seedlings and help farmers increase productivity, investing over £35 million in sustainability initiatives in the past 15 years and supplying more than 17 million coffee and cocoa plantlets to producer countries.
As a founding partner of the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) since 2005, Nestlé has committed through its Cocoa Plan to help ICI ensure that children in cocoa growing communities are not exploited and have access to education. ICI was created to work with the cocoa industry, civil society and labour unions and governments in collaborative efforts that seek to eliminate child labour and forced labour from cocoa production. The value of this collaboration is that the economic needs of farmers can be in part addressed by the investment with the cooperatives and the cooperatives will be trained to reinforce the messages on eliminating child labour.
The United Nations International Labour Organisation estimates that 132 million children aged 5 to 14 work in agriculture around the world, in many cases out of sheer economic necessity. The ICI says: There are very few commercially managed cocoa farms, and most small-holder farmers continue to use traditional farming methods. All of the work preparing the land, planting the trees, maintenance, harvesting, fermenting and drying is done manually. Cocoa farming is therefore very labour intensive. This is good in terms of providing job opportunities in rural areas, so long as the work is fairly paid and carried out in proper conditions without exploitation.
Via the Cocoa Plan, Nestlé has inaugurated a new research and development centre in the Ivory Coast which will focus on improving the quality of locally sourced raw materials, including cocoa and coffee. Better quality crops in West Africa will allow Nestlé to source raw materials locally, which in turn will raise the income and the quality of life of local farmers. Although Nestlé does not own any agricultural land or operate commercial farms, the company seeks to improve farmers living standards, environmental practices and water usage which will ultimately give Nestlé access to high quality raw materials. So its a win-win situation for everybody.
The Cocoa Plan is also helping to train farmers by supporting and investing in a programme of farmer field schools. This field schools initiative, with input from the major chocolate manufacturers, has already benefited over 80,000 farmers. At these farmer field schools, between 20 and 30 local farmers get together and meet at a local cocoa farm, on average every two to three weeks. The simple aim of farmer field schools is to help farmers to increase their yield and the quality of their harvest. Theyre taught responsible working practices and sustainable farming methods. A further benefit of the farmer field schools is that they provide a forum to tackle issues such as child labour, the importance of schooling for children and raising awareness of HIV/AIDS.
Back home in the UK news of the Fairtrade certification of such a popular mainstream brand as Kit Kat should have the added advantage of raising public awareness of the importance of promoting sustainability in the cocoa industry. With better prices paid to farmers, education in sustainable husbandry and co-operatives using the extra money to improve social conditions for the farmers, the future for the Ivory Coast cocoa growers is looking brighter. Fairtrade certification of Kit Kat will facilitate long term direct commitments to cocoa co-operatives including additional payments for the farmers to invest in community or business development projects of their own choice, such as improving healthcare and schools.
Harriet Lamb, Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation, says it is sweet news and gives a welcome break to all those cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast who need Fairtrade to improve their livelihoods and communities. Mainstream brands such as Kit Kat bring the critical mass that is needed to tip the balance of trade in favour of disadvantaged cocoa farmers.
Additional sustainability initiatives which will be funded by Nestlé as part of The Cocoa Plan include:
Plant expertise improving the quantity and quality of yields by providing 12 million stronger, more productive cocoa tree plantlets to farmers over the next 10 years.
Farmer training and assistance teaching more efficient, sustainable farming methods, such as the effective pruning of trees, fermentation and drying of beans
Improving the supply chain Nestlé is committed to buy beans from farms which use sustainable practices; helping cooperatives and farmer associations by speeding up the process from farm to export
Better social conditions Nestlé is working with partner organisations such as the International Cocoa Initiative and the World Cocoa Foundation to tackle issues such as child labour and poor access to education