Updated on May 3, 2019

Farming profitably with respect for people and the planet is at the heart of a sustainable agricultural value chain. The Rainforest Alliance and the Dutch government share this vision and collaborate in a strategic partnership to achieve sustainability in the cocoa, coffee and tea sectors, by tackling the most critical issues for farmers, such as climate change and child labor in several countries. One of these countries is Côte d’Ivoire. After visiting the country, Marcel Vernooij, from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs tells us about the changes the partnership hopes to bring to Ivorian farmers.

Marcel Vernooij

Marcel Vernooij from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs

“The partnership between the Dutch government and the Rainforest Alliance will encourage farmers’ voices to be heard in how they believe cocoa production can become more sustainable across three main areas: productivity, climate change and labor conditions.

Over the last few years, the UTZ program which is part of the Rainforest Alliance has grown to certify a quarter of all cocoa produced in Côte d’Ivoire, now certifying farmers in more than 300 cooperatives. One of these is Mr Amany. He owns three hectares of land, where he cultivates cocoa trees to make a living for his family.

Mr Amany is taking good care of his trees. After harvesting the colorful pods, he carefully removes the white beans and ferments them between banana leaves. This helps develop the beans’ typical taste and brown colour. He then sells them via his cooperative in Djekanou.”

Mr Amany, UTZ certified cocoa farmer in Côte d’Ivoire

Mr Amany, UTZ certified cocoa farmer in Côte d’Ivoire

Productivity for profit

“The average cocoa farm in Côte d’Ivoire covers less than five hectares. Since new land is rarely available, farmers can only harvest more by increasing their productivity. Farmers such as Mr Amany have been successfully doing this through improved farm management, such as proper weeding and use of fertilizer.

The UTZ program will make training in such practices more widely available to farmers through ‘cooperative academies’, and by supporting agricultural trainers to offer on-farm advice.”

Coping with climate change

Climate change poses a serious threat to the future of the cocoa industry. While Ivorian farmers had a fruitful harvest last season, this year the weather turned unpredictable.

The UTZ certification already helps farmers to mitigate the effects of climate change. Now, cooperation with local organizations will be intensified and pilot schemes may be set up to replant trees and create agroforestry zones, which will protect vulnerable areas such as rivers. If timber trees are managed sustainably, they can provide shelter for cocoa plants and bring additional income from the wood. The Rainforest Alliance will also work together with interested parties to see if farmers could be granted carbon credits.”

Farming without child labor

“During the cocoa season, many hands are needed to take care of the plantations, harvest the pods and process the beans and children often lend a helping hand. In this way, they also become familiar with what it takes to run a cocoa farm, in case they will eventually take over family business.

Cooperative CAFHS in Daloa, Côte d’Ivoire

However, the involvement of children causes serious problems if they have to undertake work that is dangerous or involves heavy loads or if it prevents them from going to school. As such, cocoa-producing countries have made eliminating child labor a priority.

The UTZ program looks at structural solutions, identified and realized by local communities themselves, in which appointed villagers will be supported to take the lead in the fight against child labor. Solutions can sometimes also be simple, such as ensuring that children have a birth certificate, necessary to go to school.”

All linked together in the value chain

“Mr Amany is eager to improve his farm, to increase his income, and therefore the quality of life of his family. With four children at school, he hopes their futures will be bright. One day perhaps his cocoa farm will be attractive enough for the next generation to take over.

The cocoa he and millions of farmers like him produce, finds its way from their cooperatives to major cocoa ports such as Amsterdam, and eventually to chocolate makers and confectioners.

The cocoa chain links us all together: Mr Amany, you, me. Together we are able to ensure that the production, certification, processing, trade and consumption of cocoa works to the benefit of people and our planet. Today, and for many years to come.”

Partnerships are key to change

Many of the challenges farmers face go beyond farm level and cannot be solved by certification alone. They must be addressed together with governments, civil society and the private sector to drive systemic change on sector level. Read more about the six issues we work on through the sector partnerships program here.

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Are you interested in joining our Sector Partnerships Program or curious about how you can contribute? Contact us.