Fairtrade cocoa farmer Fortin Bley from the Ivory Coast will address delegates at the London Chocolate Forum today, warning them that unless the international cocoa trade invest in empowering farmers to decide their own futures, it will risk losing a generation of cocoa growers.
Bley is secretary general of co-operative CANN, and chair of the Fairtrade West Africa Producer Network and will communicate his message as the 2016 cocoa harvest officially gets under way, just ahead of Chocolate Week (10-16 October). He will warn that cocoa communities urgently need development, especially in West Africa, where many live on $2 a day or less.
Bley will warn that farmers' children who see no future in cocoa are switching to more profitable crops or heading for the cities in the hope of finding a more dependable livelihood, but often end up with an equally uncertain existence on the streets. As a result, the average age of cocoa farmers in West Africa is now 51.
Farming communities are blighted by child labour, which lack the essential services such as clean water, electricity, adequate healthcare and education that most of us take for granted.
Many factors add up to serious concerns across the industry about the long-term sustainability of the supply chain: no cocoa farmers = no chocolate. As a result, the $150b (£121b) global chocolate industry is facing a watershed moment as demand for cocoa is increasing, but farmers are ever more vulnerable to shocks.
Jon Walker, cocoa supply chain manager at the Fairtrade Foundation said: "It's simply wrong that cocoa farmers who grow one of our most indulgent treats are going hungry themselves. The cocoa industry should be the envy of other markets, with demand for its products growing year on year, as more and more people around the world can afford to indulge their taste for chocolate, but cocoa farmers must be empowered to reach a living income for a truly sustainable chocolate industry.
"Fairtrade supports empowerment of cocoa farmers. Many have turned to Fairtrade to address key social and environmental challenges. We'd like to work with more businesses to drive through long lasting, impactful change so farmers can decide their own futures."
In recent years, global companies have increased investment in strategies to improve productivity and ensure their supply of cocoa, as well as in sustainability issues related to child labour, youth protection and climate change. But any intervention should also enable farmers to move to more sustainable production that addresses economic, social and environmental challenges.
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