For the Love of Chocolate

By Yasmina Zaidman on February 14, 2019

Ama Fosuah and Kofi Saara are a Ghanaian couple who work together to tend their cocoa farm on the border of the Kikum National Park. They’ve weathered many storms together, expanding their farm over the years to increase their family’s income, staving off forest elephants who live in the nearby national park and finding ways to manage the busy harvest season despite the fact that several of their grown children have left to find work in cities. I’ll be thinking of them this Valentine’s Day, not just because of the strength of their bond, but also because many of their struggles are behind the global production of chocolate.

This year Americans will spend $1.8 billion dollars on chocolate for Valentine’s Day, as this holiday is the third largest holiday for chocolate sales in the $22 billion industry. Chocolate and love have been a historic combination since the 1800s, when chocolates were packaged in heart-shaped boxes decorated with cupids and flowers and given to the object of one’s affection.

But today, the chocolate industry and many consumers are looking beyond the romantic appeal of chocolate to some of the challenges faced by the industry and by cocoa farmers themselves, who are among the poorest farmers in the world. Despite high demand for cocoa, the majority of cocoa farmers in West Africa live in poverty, earning less than $2 per day. Cocoa is grown mostly on small farms where aging farmers harvest the crop by hand and live in remote villages with limited access to basic services and infrastructure like roads and schools. Cocoa growing communities face challenges including illiteracy, lack of energy access, exclusion from financial systems, gender discrimination, land ownership disputes and limited opportunities to diversify their incomes.

The challenges surrounding the farming and production of cocoa have been documented recently in both industry-specific media and mainstream outlets and in a book by cocoa expert Kristy Leissle with her 2018 release, Cocoa. Tree diseases and record lows in global cocoa prices have led to persistent poverty that in turn leads to other challenges, including a lack of investment in farming practices, deforestation to expand land under cultivation and engaging children in cocoa production.

The cocoa industry recognizes these challenges and has made individual and joint efforts to address their complexities. In West Africa, where 60-70% of cocoa is grown for global production, a variety of organizations have been working to improve farmers’ incomes and lives through programs to train farmers, introduce new ways to increase income, provide access to education and develop village networks to help women save and access loans. Examples include CocoaAction, a joint effort by members of the World Cocoa Foundation, and Cocoa for Good, by Hershey’s, which addresses both social and environmental issues in cocoa production. Progress is being made, but often comes slowly. What else can be done?

This year, Acumen has started to focus on the challenges in the cocoa industry through an initiative called Cocoa Interrupted. Acumen and Hershey’s, one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world, have partnered to bring together social enterprises, cocoa and chocolate industry leaders, investors and intermediaries to identify and grow scalable business models led by social entrepreneurs that can have a meaningful impact on cocoa communities globally, primarily in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire.

To understand how we could help address issues facing cocoa communities, we started with a question: How could corporations help to develop and scale social enterprises that are providing market-based solutions to improve the livelihoods and sustainability of cocoa growing communities in West Africa? Some industry players, including Hershey’s, Mars, Barry Callebaut, Nestle and others, have begun to develop partnerships with their suppliers, local businesses and entrepreneurs designed to improve incomes, child nutrition and education. But the social enterprise movement in West Africa is relatively nascent, and the role of social enterprises in this industry is still not widely understood.

This is why we’ve launched Cocoa Interrupted–a call to action to the cocoa sector to support new solutions to the challenges of poverty that face cocoa growing communities in West Africa. At Acumen, we invest in innovative and purpose-driven entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs drive solutions to the many problems associated with poverty by starting with the needs of local communities and designing products and services to meet those needs, ultimately empowering individuals as customers to transform their own lives.

Acumen has invested in companies that are challenging the status quo of commodity cocoa sourcing by working directly with farmers in Latin America including Cacao de Colombia and Uncommon Cacao. Acumen has also identified pioneering entrepreneurs in Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Nigeria that are in the process of scaling business models that deliver critical goods and services to low-income rural consumers.

Cocoa Interrupted is seeking to bring new allies to the table: social enterprises, local business owners and impact investors. These allies have played a very limited role in the cocoa industry to date. Acumen aims to work with the cocoa industry to help change that, supporting creative partnerships across sectors that include social enterprises with new solutions to big problems.

Our vision for Cocoa Interrupted is to cultivate a deeper industry-wide understanding of the role of social enterprises in tackling poverty for cocoa farmers and identify ways to strengthen existing efforts to support social enterprise development. On April 9, 2019, Acumen will release a report on the role of social enterprises in the cocoa supply chains designed to deliver insights, examples and new voices, directly from social enterprises, and will host an event in Oxford alongside the Skoll World Forum, and in collaboration with Business Fights Poverty, focused on sustainable supply chains.

We believe that an interruption in the status quo is needed, even as we acknowledge the tremendous complexity of the cocoa supply chain.

We hope you’ll join us. For the love of chocolate, and for the farmers who produce it.

Yasmina Zaidman, Chief Partnerships Officer, Acumen

To learn more about the April 9th Acumen and Business Fights Poverty event in Oxford, or request a copy of the Cocoa Interrupted report when it is published, please email Emily Gannam at [email protected]

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