Barry Callebaut’s White Talk: ‘Forever Chocolate’, what’s the big deal for cocoa farmers?

Amid much fanfare, Barry Callebaut claims it will raise 500,000 cocoa farmers out of extreme poverty by 2025 in its new strategy, dubbed “Forever Chocolate“. But it does not alter the structure of the cocoa/chocolate chain. Then what’s the big deal!?

cocoa farmers are smart, sophisticated adult people

In 2014 Dutch TV station VPRO aired a mini-doc on what happens when some Ivory Coast cocoa farmers get to taste the end product of their labors for the first time. The video offered a pretty uncritical picture of the way cocoa production affects the laborers who give us our cheap chocolate.

ChuraChura, a graduate student studying primate behavior just on the border of Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia, had a few problems with the story the video offered:

[cocoa farmers] are smart, sophisticated adult men (and women, though fewer women own their own land—they mostly just do a lot of the labor on their husbands’ and fathers’ farms). They’re plugged into their local economies, they have a sense of larger global economic forces, and they know what’s going on.

In the forest at the field station, we listen to BBC World Service in French on the satellite radio. They’d ask me cutting and incisive questions about American political situations (they found the government shutdown as ridiculous as I did), they religiously followed the situation in Egypt with the Muslim brotherhood, mourned Mandela, and trash talked other football teams in anticipation of the World Cup.

This is the way an extractive (exploitative) cash-crop economy works. […] It wouldn’t be touching if you showed a cell-phone to a coltan miner in DRC and said “Look at this amazing machine your backbreaking labor in dangerous conditions enabled!” It wouldn’t be touching if you went to a diamond miner in Sierra Leone with your sparkly pretty engagement ring and said, totally amazed, “But why don’t you have one?” Consumers in the developed world should be smarter than that. The producers in the developing world — the folks enabling our lifestyles —certainly are.

programs instead of values

Barry Callebaut is trying to frame the debate. As Mondelēz and the Fairtrade Mark do. They push their programs instead of thinking and acting in terms of values. The Fair Trade movement has to reframe and reclaim the Big Chocolate discourse.

movement of forward-thinking entrepreneurialism?

Last week Mondelēz taught the world how it has been able to convince the Fairtrade Foundation to water down the purpose and integrity of the Fair Trade movement. Now Barry Callebaut claims to be spearheading a new alliance:

We intend to start a movement that also includes governments, non-governmental organisations, consumers and our customers,” Mr Antoine de Saint-Affrique, chief executive of the Swiss supplier of much of the world’s chocolate, told ft.com.

But, asked why the focus was on productivity rather than paying a higher price, he said: “In the end we are a business, we are not UNICEF or an NGO. If we pay farmers more money we have to find the return for that in the products we sell and inevitably the demand will fall.

This of course is cheap White Talk. The opaqueness and compartentalization Big Chocolate operates in cannot be democratized any further without a restructuring of the economic system it operates under. Desperately needed are courageous antitrust laws that ensure adequate competition. We don’t need more of this soft law, we definitely do need fair trade rules. At last.

$2.40 a day no big deal (for cocoa farmers)

By 2025 Barry Callebaut wants Ivorian cocoa farmers to double the amount of cocoa coming from their plots of land. The necessary condition to ensure the sustainability of the cocoa sector though is a “remunerative” cocoa price that compensates farmers sufficiently to ensure more then just a “living” income.

Annual income per capita of Ivory Coast – the world’s premier cocoa grower – is $1,450 with five children per family on average. So, while their compatriots make 3 dollars a day, cocoa farmers in Côte D’Ivoire will have to be happy and feed their families with $2.40 a day (the World Bank extreme poverty line for the country), according to Nicko Debenham, vp of cocoa sustainability at Barry Callebaut.

What farmers really want is a gently rising price,” he told confectionerynews.com.

However, not all cocoa farmers are pleased with this White Talk. Last October the government of Ghana f.e. increased the producer price of cocoa by 11.76 percent. Farmers argued a 500 or 600 percent increase in the producer price would suffice.

gold panning: “In one week, I earn the equivalent of a year’s cocoa harvest”

Since independence in 1960, Ivory Coast has built its economy on cash crop agriculture, growing about 40 percent of the world’s cocoa, which makes up some 15 percent of its GDP. Cocoa production is a key source of income for many smallholder farmers in Ivory Coast, but weak global prices made production has slumped over the years. Farmers have abandoned the crop to work in clandestine gold mines buried deep in the plantations.

We had to choose between dying of hunger or feeding the family,” cocoa planter turned gold panner Octave Kouamee Konan says. “In one week, I earn the equivalent of a year’s cocoa harvest.“.

Forever chocolate: no (immediate) improvement

In recent years, Côte d’Ivoire has experienced unprecedented economic growth, with real GDP growth forecast at 7.8% in 2016 and 8% in 2017.

While cocoa helped Ivory Coast become a relatively prosperous nation, it also brought it to the brink of an ecological disaster. It lost 80 percent of its virgin forest between independence from France in 1960 and 2010.

The near total disappearance of forests in eastern Ivory Coast – once its main cocoa production zone – destroyed microclimates. Changes in rainfall patterns led to a drop in cocoa and coffee yields, creating a situation where one spark would be enough to create serious levels of social tension and violence. Poverty remains a predominantly rural phenomenon, manifested in inequalities in access to essential services and gender disparities, which fuels divisions between income groups but also between urban and rural populations.

The government is now turning to the real added value of cocoa: its transformation into chocolate. In 2015, President Alassane Ouattara set a goal of 50% bean processing in Côte d’Ivoire by 2020, compared with 33% currently. “It is necessary to develop the transformation to boost the economy, but also have a local added value,” said Premier Daniel Kablan Duncan, at the opening ceremony of the Coffee Cocoa Days on Saturday, October 1.

According to the CCC (le Conseil du café-cacao), Ivorian planters received 1,500 billion CFA francs (2,3 billion euros) in 2015, as against 1,003 billion in 2012. Bean processing, which is carried out in the vicinity of the main export ports of Abidjan and San Pedro – and not within the outback of the country, from which all the cocoa production originates – will not bring an immediate improvement in the living conditions of a large part of the rural population.

According to the authors of the COCOA BAROMETER[a]n unfair sharing of power in the cocoa supply chain is one of the main reasons cocoa farmers continue to live in extreme poverty. For example, six of the largest chocolate companies control 40% of the cocoa buying market. This concentration of power in the cocoa industry favours cocoa buyers and traders, and leaves farmers with a weaker position and little ability to voice their needs.

Tackling rural poverty and ensuring social stability therefore will come

  1. at a good, fair and reasonable cocoa price, that passes on far more than just a living income &
  2. through democratizing the economic system Barry Callebaut operates under.

Desperately needed are antitrust laws that ensure adequate competition: the world needs less soft law and more courageous, fair world trade rules. Common sense, right? Deal!

Een gedachte over “Barry Callebaut’s White Talk: ‘Forever Chocolate’, what’s the big deal for cocoa farmers?

  1. Pingback: #ForeverChocolate an open invitation for cooperation ? – #Fairtrade a hell of a deal for first-world bureaucrats ? | recepten en nieuwsjes vanuit de Dorpsstraat, nr 31

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