Understanding Cocoa: Sustainability

We consider what is already being done and what needs to be done in the move towards more sustainable cocoa trade.

Cocoa production is complex and with an array of actors along the cocoa supply chain there is a lot of potential to address the economic, social, and environmental challenges in order to secure future cocoa supply and a sustainable cocoa industry. Below, we highlight some of the necessary actions that need to be taken for the development of more sustainable cacao. 

Improving the quality of life for cacao farmers and their families. 

The cocoa industry needs to initiate and support programs to educate farmers and their families. This has the potential to not only ensure that farmers are exposed to safe farming tasks, but also enable/empower them to learn new and efficient agricultural skills. It should also work to abolish child labour which is still prevelant in the cocoa industry. The International Cocoa Initiative, for example, is working to improve access to education in cocoa-growing communities and have found a significant relationship between higher education quality and lower rates of child labour.1 

Evolving natural resources and biodiversity in cocoa farming. 

There are many ecological benefits associated with the cultivation of cocoa crops in association with other types of trees. Traditional cocoa agroforests are usually cultivated in the shade of native forest trees and contain other plants and trees such as banana, plantain and timber. However, in order to increase productivity and yield, some farmers convert large areas entirely to cocoa farms, contributing to deforestation and a decrease in biodiversity. The ‘Feed the Future Climate Smart Cocoa Program’ is working to transform current cocoa farms into climate-smart cocoa agroforestry systems which will ensure increased biodiversity conservation and environmental protection in years to come.2 

Developing the marketing of sustainable cacao is also integral to consumer choices when purchasing products containing cocoa. While there is an increasing trend in consumer awareness on the need for more sustainable products, increased marketing and visibility of sustainable cacao on the shelves of major retailers would help to make buying sustainable cocoa products the ‘norm’. 

Last but not least, monitoring certification schemes for organic, fair trade and sustainable cocoa produce is vital. While certification schemes have been an important first step towards sustainability in the cocoa supply chain, they are not perfect and further measures are needed to ensure better pay for cocoa farmers and support the transition towards sustainable practices that support our current needs and the needs of future generations, while also protecting the natural environment. At present, the key to transforming the cocoa industry is through adequate policies, resolutions, budget and subsidy reviews which address the current inefficiencies and mobilise a more ethical and sustainable supply chain. 



  1. https://cocoainitiative.org/knowledge-centre-post/quality-of-education-and-child-labour-a-review-of-evidence/
  2. https://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/initiative/climate-smart-cocoa/

Imagery courtesy of Unsplash.

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