Abidjan — Tens of thousands of Côte d'Ivoire cocoa farmers are reducing pesticide use, curbing soil erosion and water contamination and at the same time boosting yields and income thanks to certification schemes which are making their cocoa more attractive to foreign buyers, say certification companies.
For example, more than 80,000 cocoa farmers in Côte d'Ivoire (and around 36,000 others in neighbouring Ghana) are enrolled in the Rainforest Alliance certification programme which requires producers to use farm and environmental management practices aimed at sustaining production in the long term.
"Before planting, we used to burn the fields, but we've been taught that it's not good so we stopped and now only use machetes to prepare the fields," said Olivier Abeyao, a farmer in Abengourou in eastern Côte d'Ivoire. He explained that he has reduced pesticide use and is now planting 10-18 trees per hectare to be used for shade in his cocoa fields.
Certified farmers are linked with cocoa exporters and chocolate firms that finance their training and buy their produce. The companies take a share of the premium the farmers earn from certified cocoa.
Child labour, deforestation and low farmers' incomes are major concerns for cocoa consumers, according to Rainforest Alliance.
Cocoa Barometer, a European network of NGOs and unions in the cocoa sector, says consumer demand, better brand reputation and transparency of the supply chain are other factors that make companies turn to certified cocoa.
Global production of certified cocoa increased fourfold between 2009 and 2011 to reach 474,000 tons in 2011 and is expected to grow to 2.2 million tons by 2020, according to Cocoa Barometer.
Côte d'Ivoire is the world's top producer of cocoa (35 percent of world production). It is grown by around 900,000 farmers and sustains some 3.5 million livelihoods. In the 2011-2012 season it produced nearly 1.5 million tons.
As many as two million West African households live directly off cocoa and more than 20 million West Africans rely on the cocoa economy, but many farmers remain in deep poverty.
"The aim of Rainforest Alliance is to create value for cocoa producing communities by improving farm management practices, including productivity and resilience to climate change, strengthening farmer organizations and supporting local partners," Eric Servat, senior manager in Rainforest Alliance's cocoa and spices programme, told IRIN.
"Besides taking care of the environment and our health, we get a premium, which is something good for us," Abeyao said, revealing that he earned 150,000 CFA francs (US$300) in premiums in the 2011-2012 season which ended in September 2012.
"The farmer gets better paid for doing a better work. It is satisfying," said Theodore Guetat, head of a cocoa cooperative of 1,100 farmers in Abengourou. "The quality of our production is much better."
More farmers are willing to switch to certified cocoa, Guetat said. "If you don't get your production certified, it's not certain that you'll manage to sell your cocoa in the future," he said.
Not enough buyers?
However, some farmers told IRIN they have had difficulties finding buyers for their certified cocoa. "If you don't have a contract with an international company it may be difficult to sell the crop," said Leon Edoukou Adou, a cocoa farmer and the head of a certified cooperative in Abengourou.
"We haven't found any buyer so we had to sell our cocoa beans as if they were regular beans, not certified," said Adou, whose produce is certified by Fairtrade, another certification company.
Servat said reaching farmers outside cooperatives, and smaller plantation owners, was difficult. It thus trained farmers on sustainable farming methods; they in turn trained their colleagues outside the certification scheme.
Farmers working with Rainforest Alliance and UTZ, another certification company, sell their produce to exporters or chocolate manufacturers under agreements with the certification firms.
This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.