Exclusive: Fairtrade gears up for World Confectionery Conference with new warning on threat to cocoa sustainability


After playing its part in our first online Global Confectionery Conference, Fairtrade International returns again for our first physical event. Editor-in-chief Neill Barston speaks exclusively with Jon Walker, senior cocoa adviser for the global movement, on some of the key issues at stake, including improving farmers’ living standards.

Returning once again to our conference, Jon Walker says that despite his faith in Fairtrade’s continuing mission, the global cost of living crisis presents major challenges for those growing the cocoa market in West Africa. See our exclusive video with Jon here.

Just twelve months after appearing online as part of our initial event, he had previously described the precipitous drop in the price of beans for trade as “a disaster” for these communities.

Now, with additional strains on the system as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the wider market instability has created a new source of concern for farmers serving the confectionery trade. Simply put, without agricultural producers receiving urgent long-term support through improved prices and broader community support programs, the future viability of the sector remains uncertain. (You can see Jon and a number of other presentations representing the full confectionery, snacks and bakery value chain at our Global Confectionery Conference in Brussels on September 9, with registration available via our website dedicated.)

Jon said: “Since last year the situation has changed a bit, but cocoa prices are still 18% lower than those paid in 2016. “But now we are in the throes of a global cocoa crisis. inflation, which is going to hit cocoa farmers there, which is really worrying. The inflation rate in Ghana is around 27% and in Ivory Coast 5.5% (lower because it is linked to the Euro, which can go higher), so we have increases in the cost of living, fertilizers whose price doubled within the past year. Thus, the cost of production increases – which could manifest in very bad circumstances for them.

As he added, key concerns could include that with rising costs comes the potential for communities in West Africa to face food insecurity, leading to higher rates of malnutrition. Additionally, he noted that independent research from the International Cocoa Initiative has indicated that shocks to overall household income can impact child labor.

Notably, as Confectionery Production has already pointed out, the sector analysis revealed that with the majority of the cocoa industry in West Africa still predominantly composed of smallholder farmers, a general level of poverty (with many agricultural workers earning just over a dollar a day), they were then unable to hire adult laborers, which meant that children – including younger age groups – were called upon to carry out tasks manual, including blade work with harvesting and pesticide control. Thus, wider research has shown that a total of 1.5 million children are still at risk of being called upon to engage in such agricultural activities – which should not be undertaken by minors.

Regarding how Fairtrade can help, he explained that currently his own additional premiums are having a positive impact. He added: “At the basic level, a ton of cocoa from Côte d’Ivoire is sold under fair trade conditions, then this farmer receives an additional 15% on the farm gate price, compared to conventional prices, which offers immediate help.”There’s also a Fairtrade premium of $240 a tonne, which goes to the co-op, and they decide how best to use it – and we’ve seen in the past that they will step in and help cover fertilizer costs, income diversification, and in the pandemic, even helped with food aid,” noted the cocoa adviser, who explained that he is also engaged with farmers to increase the rate of cocoa actually marketed (which currently accounts for about 40% of the volume of those farmers who are certified under its programs), which he says would have another significant impact on the standard of living of West African communities.

The cocoa adviser also said that while real progress has been made, “we need to move faster towards achieving a living income, but this cost of living crisis may well set that back”, he said. he explained, noting that collective action was needed to deal with the region’s current economic climate.

Significantly, he expressed hope that the situation could be stabilized by working with some of his industry partners, including brands such as Ben & Jerry’s, Tony’s Chocolonely (who will also be speaking at the conference Confectionery World this year), Mars as well as retailers such as Lidl, which, the cocoa adviser added, has gone beyond standard fair trade commitments by offering direct assistance to farmers with crop diversification, access to finance and agricultural efficiency programs, all of which would generate positive momentum. Walker added: “These initiatives are all helping, but what we really need now is change at a systemic level, and one of the glimmers of hope that there is is for this discussion to normalize. within the industry.”

Another central aspect of the situation is that of the regulations relating to the cocoa sector. He acknowledged that the two main sets of measures proposed – centered on sustainability frameworks for human rights and environmental due diligence – could also have a significant positive impact on agricultural supply chains, as well as on the fight against deforestation.

“With these measures there is a change, but we need improvements to this legislation before it becomes law, but changes are on the way. These things could be
game changers,” noting that significant additional controls are needed, including taking an inclusive approach to the entire supply chain, as opposed to limited aspects of it. Significantly, he believed that the cost of implementing these legislative improvements should not be imposed on farming communities.

Furthermore, he added, regarding the payment of agricultural workers, he felt that Fairtrade was “in line” with the suggestions of Michel Arrion, director of the
International Cocoa Organization, that payment levels need to be dramatically increased for communities to thrive in their vital roles within the industry.

Collaboration with Earthworm

Significantly, the Fairtrade movement has collaborated with the nonprofit Earthworm Foundation for another initiative that hopes to have game-changing prospects.

The initiative will use Starling, a satellite-based tool developed by Earthworm Foundation and Airbus, the pilot project aims to capture critical data on deforestation within Fairtrade cooperatives and their smallholder cocoa farmers in Ghana and Ivory Coast to help these communities to better manage the forests.

The partnership believes that the European Commission’s efforts to ban imports of cocoa, coffee and other commodities when production is associated with deforestation, will strengthen the access of cooperatives and their member smallholders to data from risk management, would help them better enable them to maintain access to their main markets. in Europe and beyond.

“We are delighted to announce this historic partnership which will explore how cooperatives and their members can leverage powerful datasets for their own risk analysis processes and in line with planned government regulations against deforestation, not only in the European Union but also in the United Kingdom and the United States,” added Jon, of his latest major program which he hopes will have an impact.

– register for our World Confectionery Conference on September 9, via our event site, www.confectioneryconference.com

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