Impact story

A viable income for cocoa farmers

Many cocoa farmers live below the poverty threshold and, in some cases, are forced to have their children work on the plantations. Wageningen University & Research (WUR) experts study what steps are needed to achieve a decent income. Their ideas and insights are included in many strategic sustainable development programmes.

From the Rainforest Alliance to slavery-free chocolate: in recent decades, numerous labels have been launched to promote sustainability within the cocoa chain. Moreover, businesses have launched many sustainability programmes. A step in the right direction, but these initiatives seldom address the factors that contribute to families remaining stuck below the viable income threshold. One of the reasons is that fertile lands become depleted after an extended period of use.

This increases the risk of disease and plagues, leading to higher production costs for the cocoa farmers. Moreover, the growing of cocoa requires more (child) labour. Such programmes also barely address other underlying factors such as the poor negotiating position of farmers within the chain, the limited farmlands, lack of investment options, lack of jobs outside of the cocoa farming sector and the limited options to capitalise in cocoa in the producing countries. The production of cocoa is currently some 50-75% lower than is technically possible. The majority of the cocoa farmers barely earn half of what is considered a viable income.

Carefully considered decisions

Wageningen agricultural economists, agriculture and environmental experts study this complex issue from all perspectives and provide scientifically substantiated recommendations to make the cocoa chain more sustainable. Based on these recommendations, governments, civic organisations, and businesses may take carefully considered strategic decisions on what steps to take and with whom. For example, to create options for more effective and cost-efficient cocoa fertilisation, improved communication between farmers and businesses, stimulating alternative means of generating income on the farm and beyond, and launching savings and credit programmes.

In recent years, Wageningen experts have inspired governments, civic organisations and businesses all over the world to rethink the cocoa chain. In one-on-one dialogues and whitepapers, but also through lectures and keynotes at conferences and international meetings such as the Living Income Community of Practice, the International Alliance for Sustainable Cocoa, and the EU ‘Cocoa talks’.

Beyond the chain, beyond the sector

They call for a tailored approach in supporting local farmers. This support should lead to increased production in the cocoa farming business and a higher market price, in combination with measures restricting the production volume (to prevent the price from plummeting through overproduction) and diversification of income (including payment for ecosystem services).

Moreover, research is required to enable farmers to produce on larger plots without increased deforestation. The experts also stress the value of sharing knowledge and collaboration within and beyond the cocoa chain and sector. Their insights are found in numerous sustainability programmes such as those of the Cocoa Soils Program, the Farmer Income Lab, Barry Callebaut and Cargill.

Increased sustainability

Wageningen University & Research experts are convinced that a systemic approach holds the promise of increased sustainability. They will continue to endeavour to comprehend complex issues in the coming years and to translate their insights into recommendations that help governments, civic organisations, businesses and, in particular, farmers advance. Not just in the production of cocoa but also in coffee and tea. These chains face similarly challenging issues.