Q&A: Sustainable Cocoa Brings Sweet Benefits to Workers and Wildlife

Edward Millard After working with our partners in the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) to introduce farmers throughout Latin America to sustainable methods of growing coffee, the Rainforest Alliance began working with cocoa farmers in Ecuador. Just like coffee, cocoa can thrive under the shade of the forest canopy, where it supports biodiversity by providing habitat for threatened plant and animal species, protecting natural pollinators and cocoa pest predators, and creating biological corridors. In 2006, Edward Millard came to the Rainforest Alliance to grow our cocoa program after having worked for Oxfam Fair Trade and Conservation International. In the past three years, he has played an integral role in its rapid expansion in Africa. Just how rapid? Sales of Rainforest Alliance Certified™ cocoa grew from $4.5 million in 2007 to $16.75 million in 2008. We sat down with Millard to discuss the program's development and find out where it's headed.

What drove the Rainforest Alliance to begin working with cocoa farmers in Ecuador?

It made sense to draw on our experience with coffee and apply it to cocoa, which is also very important for biodiversity conservation. Both crops can thrive under shade trees, so they provide a means of conserving the landscape as well as a livelihood for thousands of farmers. Ecuador was a good place to start our cocoa program because it is the world's largest supplier of fine flavor cocoa and we already had a presence there, through Conservación y Desarrollo, our partner in the Sustainable Agriculture Network -- the oldest and largest coalition of NGOs working to improve commodity production in the tropics.

What are some of the challenges you face when introducing cocoa farmers to Rainforest Alliance certification?

Cocoa Pods Cocoa farmers are nearly all smallholders who don't employ many workers. So parts of the SAN standards -- which are relevant to large landowners -- don't always apply. For that reason, the process of setting local, regionally relevant indicators is important. These indicators ensure that the SAN standard, originally crafted for use in Latin America, is adaptable to different geographical and cultural contexts.

The second big challenge is that in West Africa, unlike in Latin America, certification is a new concept. Teaching farmers about what's involved in the certification process requires a good deal of on-the-ground training and education, which we've been providing through classes at farmer field schools. We've also been training local auditors to conduct certification audits.

Do you see the cocoa industry as a whole moving toward a more responsible approach to production?

Undoubtedly. The heightened commitment from Kraft, our original cocoa collaborator, and a new commitment from Mars, to source 100,000 tons of Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa each year by 2020, are both indicative of an increasing level of interest industry-wide. Now, companies across the whole supply chain, from cocoa processors to chocolate manufacturers, are showing real interest in certification.

Do you have any suggestions for kids or adults who want to go green this Halloween?

I think it's really important for parents to educate kids about where their food comes from. They can help their kids understand that chocolate comes from the other side of the world, and while it's a tasty treat to them, it's a way of life for millions of families.

Visit the Rainforest Alliance From Bean to Bar detail the process of transforming cocoa beans into chocolate bars.

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