Food Safety

From bean to bar: the challenges of the cocoa industry

It is the key ingredient in one of the world’s favourite affordable luxury treats, but the reality behind cocoa is bittersweet. A sustainable cocoa industry is the goal of a new ISO technical committee that hopes to build a better future for cocoa farmers –for the greater benefit of us all.

Cocoa farmer Francisco Miranda remembers:

“My grandma had a small cocoa farm which she inherited when she was young. I remember she would take me on long trips up a river to her farm, which was tended by workers. She would go in her boots with a gun holstered, ready for action, and ride her horse and help the harvest and lift the cocoa bags and be the boss. My sweet grandmother would turn into this hard-working cowgirl… it was mesmerizing.

Years later, when I got the opportunity to oversee my own farm, I jumped at it. I have since been very much involved in agriculture and have had the chance to grow many crops, but there is none so kind to the environment, so encouraging to biodiverse fauna and so inviting to birds as cocoa.”

Francisco, who is General Manager of Ecuadorian exporter and producer Guangala and oversees a 240 ha cocoa farm in Ecuador with over 70 employees, is just one of the 14 million or so cocoa workers in the industry, and with reasonable productivity and a disease-resistant cocoa variety, one of the luckier ones. Because most cocoa farmers are worryingly poor.


No easy crop to grow

Cocoa farmers tend to live in regions that are poor, with inadequate infrastructure such as bad roads, poor healthcare and sanitation and substandard education, making it difficult to access markets. The situation is further compounded by the fact that cocoa trees only grow in regions close to the equator, under the right conditions, and are vulnerable to disease, pests and climate change.

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With 33 years in the cocoa trade, Pierre Etoa Abena, Senior Technical Advisor to the National Cocoa Coffee Board of Cameroon (NCCB), understands the issues faced by farmers well.

“As a producer, having a decent price that covers production costs and gives me a profit is central to my sustainability, but there are many barriers to this. There are many organizations involved in the supply chain, each with different criteria and requirements; at the same time, costs are increasing for things like fertilizers and transporting the cocoa abroad.”

Antonie Fountain, Managing Director of The VOICE Network, an association of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and trade unions working together to address sustainability issues in the global cocoa supply chain, concurs.

“The market doesn’t work for the farmers, it’s true. There needs to be a way of ensuring they receive a reasonable price for their goods. Yes, there are other factors : they need to diversify, they need access to good equipment and fertilizers and they need training in effective agricultural methods. But without ensuring a fair price, these measures alone won’t make the sector sustainable.”

Francisco agrees that the barriers to sustainability are multifaceted. Ever-changing government regulations and instability in cocoa markets are forcing what was once a very stable industry to step back and reconsider its options, he says.

“The key challenges revolve around what you can’t plan for. Sustainability requires many changes in infrastructure and long-term investment by the farmers ; yet without contracts or commitments or a sustainable price, many farmers cannot [even] meet basic caloric needs. Breaking point will come soon and the more vulnerable players in the supply chain will continue to suffer.”

Without empowering and investing in small-scale farmers, cocoa farmers will struggle to provide sufficient cocoa supply in the future and young farmers will leave cocoa growing.

A taste of standardization

ISO technical committee ISO /TC 34, Food products, subcommittee SC 18, Cocoa, which is jointly managed by ISO’s member for the Netherlands (NEN) along with members from key cocoa-producing countries Côte d’Ivoire (CODINORM) and Ghana (GSA), is ISO’s first committee for sustainably produced commodities, a new field of expertise for ISO.

Together with the European Committee for Standardization’s technical committee CEN /TC 415, Sustainable and Traceable Cocoa, whose secretariat is held by Danish Standards (DS), ISO’s member for Denmark, they are developing the ISO 34101 series of standards, Sustainable and traceable cocoa beans, which aims to address the challenges the cocoa sector faces.

Along with International Standards such as ISO 2451 and ISO 2292, which set the specifications and quality requirements for cocoa beans, the ISO 34101 series of standards is designed to be used by all those involved in the cocoa supply chain, from the farmers to the purchasers. It is intended to help with the implementation of good agricultural practices, protection of the environment and the improvement of the social conditions of farmers

Source: ISOFocus Magazine

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