Yao Ahou, a cocoa farmer in Côte d’Ivoire, is well aware of the challenge she faces in farming for the core ingredient for the world’s chocolate. “For us cocoa farmers, our problem is climate change. When we expect the rains, it is the sun that comes up, and when the sun is expected, it is the rains that come. That really confuses us, especially the cocoa trees that need the rain to produce.”
Addressing the impact of climate change is essential to ensure long-term cocoa sustainability and farmer prosperity. When I first started working at the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) in 2011, there was limited knowledge about cocoa and climate change, and even less about possible solutions. But thanks to a grant from USAID, we have been able to work with key stakeholders to develop a strategy and identify innovations for climate smart cocoa.
Our journey started in 2013, when the International Center for Tropical Agriculture carried out climate research showing that some areas will no longer be suitable for growing cocoa because of climate change. It will bring more sporadic rains, longer and hotter dry seasons, and an increase in pests and diseases. Without adaptive strategies, cocoa productivity and quality will suffer.
In 2016, WCF partnered with Feed the Future, nine cocoa and chocolate companies and ACDI/VOCA to launch the Feed the Future Partnership for Climate Smart Cocoa with a goal to increase private sector investment and engagement in climate smart cocoa. The program focuses on three regions: West Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Liberia), Central America (El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua) and the Caribbean (Dominican Republic) with objectives to develop a climate smart cocoa strategy, as well as identifying climate smart innovations.
Over the past four years, the program has achieved major successes in the domains of governance and innovations.
Utilizing the climate smart inception reports as an entry point, WCF engaged with public and private sector stakeholders at the country and regional level to help them integrate climate smart agriculture into their sustainability efforts. For example, WCF has been in constant dialogue with the Cocoa Integration Committee of Central America and the Dominican Republic (SICACAO). This pan-central American organization promotes the sustainable development of the cocoa sector. In Ghana, WCF played a key role in the development of the climate smart cocoa standard.
The program also developed innovations that companies are integrating in their sustainability programs. They are currently training Ghanaian farmers in climate smart cocoa best practices utilizing the climate smart cocoa curriculum developed through the program and currently being finalized in Côte d’Ivoire. An online curriculum is also in use in Latin America. The promotion of tree tenure represented another breakthrough. We are supporting farmers to legally register trees on their farms to incentivize them to plant and protect trees. We have similarly developed numerous tools to support companies to promote cocoa agroforestry systems (e.g., guidelines, an online platform). Moreover, in partnership with Bioversity International, we are identifying cocoa planting material that is heat and drought tolerant.
As I write this article, the Feed the Future Partnership for Climate Smart Cocoa Program is being wrapped up. It has made a tremendous contribution in shaping the cocoa sector’s strategy for environmental sustainability. The Cocoa & Forest Initiative, a flagship initiative to end cocoa-related deforestation, benefited greatly from the progress made on climate smart cocoa. This legacy will live on, with both the public and private sector dedicated to ensuring delicious chocolate and a healthy planet go together.
Ethan Budiansky serves as Director of Environment and leads WCF’s overarching strategy on addressing environmental sustainability across the cocoa sector. Heading both the Climate Smart Cocoa Program and the Cocoa and Forest Initiative, he helps cocoa and chocolate companies advance their environmental sustainability commitments, addressing deforestation and the impact of climate change in cocoa growing regions. Ethan also co-leads the Cocoa Livelihoods Program to improve farm-level productivity and the livelihoods of cocoa farmers.