How Sustainability Considerations Influence Cocoa Sourcing and Chocolate Production.

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Sunbeth Global Concepts

The global cocoa and chocolate value chain is rapidly changing, evidenced by the steady increase in cocoa market share and chocolate consumption over the past few years. Global cocoa prices per metric tonne rose from approximately $2500 in 2019 to $9500 by June 2024. Similarly, chocolate consumption grew from approximately 2.9 million metric tonnes to approximately 3.03 million metric tonnes between 2019 and 2024.

Consumer behaviour in the chocolate market is also evolving. Many consumers are now paying attention to sustainable food production, becoming more conscious of the environmental and social impacts of their nutritional choices.

In other words, consumers are no longer just buying chocolates; they’re showing interest in the processes and materials that created the confectionaries. Particularly, there are growing concerns among consumers who wish to ensure that the cocoa beans used in producing the chocolates are sourced sustainably.

Expectedly, this growing sustainability awareness and public concern affects different aspects of the cocoa value chain and chocolate production. This article explores these effects, starting with a dive into the less pleasant side of cocoa production.

The Unpleasant Side of Cocoa Production

Cocoa production is a challenging business. It is labour-intensive, requiring farmers to engage in strenuous manual activities from tending to cocoa trees and implementing disease prevention measures to harvesting, and post-harvesting processing.

But, beyond the physically taxing aspect of cocoa production, it also contributes to some undesirable social and environmental concerns, such as;

Worst Form of Child Labour

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A child on a cocoa farm

The labour-intensive nature of cocoa production often forces farmers to use whatever means are available to maximise their production, including making children engage in strenuous farming-related activities. This is a major issue in the largest cocoa-producing countries in West Africa. The U.S. Department of Labour estimates that around 1.56 million children are involved in cocoa-related child labour in these countries.

As a result, children are exposed to hazards, potential injuries, and other undesirable conditions. In extreme cases, farmers may prevent their children from attending schools, preferring to make them work on the farms instead.

Deforestation

Cocoa farming is a major contributor to deforestation in nearly every cocoa-producing country. Farmers seeking to expand their cocoa plantations often clear out valuable rainforest vegetation to create space for more farmland.

Farmers also sometimes encroach on protected forest reserves to find a conducive environment for cocoa production.

Measures to Address These Concerns

Thankfully, several organizations and regulations are being instituted to curb these challenges. For example, the EUDR is implemented by the EU to ensure traceability in the cocoa value chain and eliminate the adverse social and environmental effects of cocoa production. Some of the other efforts include;

Fair Trade and Ethical Certifications: Certifications like Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, and UTZ have rapidly gained prominence, becoming standard measures for gauging sustainability efforts and compliance.

These organizations ensure that cocoa farmers receive fair wages, work in safe conditions, and employ environmentally friendly farming practices. In addition, farmers’ groups and cocoa distributors with these certifications have an advantage in the market as processors are more likely to choose certified products to support more equitable and sustainable cocoa sourcing. That’s why reputable distributors like Sunbeth Global Concepts only source and supply certified premium cocoa beans from registered farms.

Farmer Empowerment: Some chocolate manufacturers and cocoa distributors are driving initiatives to empower cocoa farmers. For example, Sunbeth Global Concepts regularly provides sustainability-focused training and resources for cocoa farmers across Nigeria.

This approach allows for improved farming practices, ensures farmers continually improve their production, and fosters long-term partnerships that benefit both producers and manufacturers.

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Sunbeth Representatives Training Cocoa Farmers

Agroforestry and Sustainable Farming Practices: Agroforestry, i.e., the integration of cocoa cultivation with other crops and trees, is gaining traction as a sustainable farming method. This practice enhances biodiversity, improves soil health, and provides additional income sources for farmers, contributing to a more resilient and sustainable cocoa supply chain.

Embracing Sustainable Cocoa Production and Distribution

Several actors at different levels of the cocoa value chain are responsible for implementing sustainability measures. All involved parties must ensure food safety by creating transparent traceability systems. They should also make it their duty to protect the environment, plants, and animals, especially the endangered fauna & floral species, and improve the livelihood of the other actors across the value chain.

This is made more crucial with chocolate consumers all over the world desiring to know the source of the raw materials used in producing the cocoa (traceability), the environment it was produced in (free of protected areas), the living conditions of the producers (livelihood), and the type of labour that went into its production(child & forced labour).

The building in the diagram above represents the cocoa sustainability structure in the value chain. The pillars and beams depict the main supports for the structure. Therefore, all actors in the value chain must be knowledgeable about these main components of sustainability and how to improve them.

These actors include the producers (farmers), crop protection (agrochemicals) producers, buying agents (brokers, LBA), handlers (warehouses), transporters (trucks & vessels), government agencies (state & federal produce), processors, confectionaries, and retailers.

These actors must diligently follow all the tenets of sustainability in the value chain. They should also document all their activities in a format that is verifiable by third parties to accurately gauge their performance.

In addition, the traceability system must be transparent enough, and all due diligence must be conducted regarding child labour monitoring and remediation. The actors must also provide proof of the impact of the monitoring and evaluation.

Lastly, there must be plans to improve the livelihood and working conditions of the producers, workers, and other actors at the lower levels of the value chain. Income diversification, gender equality, and women empowerment initiatives should also be treated with utmost concern.

The Future is Sweet (and Sustainable)

The growing influence of sustainability concerns on the chocolate industry is a positive development. By prioritizing ethical sourcing and environmentally friendly practices, actors in the industry can ensure a sustainable future for cocoa production and the supply of delicious chocolate treats for generations to come.

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