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The Value of Data in Promoting Cocoa Sustainability
Good agricultural practices are key to sustainable cocoa farming—they can improve the quality of cocoa, the productivity of a farm, make cocoa farming safer, and minimize negative environmental impact, all for the long-term benefit of cocoa farmers and their communities.
In 2017, the World Cocoa Foundation’s CocoaAction strategy has taken a significant step forward in aligning measurement practices: WCF assembled more than 50 data collectors, measurement coordinators, and trainers from 13 organizations for two-day training sessions that were held in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the world’s top two cocoa producing countries, as shown in this video.
Good agricultural practices (GAP) are key to sustainable cocoa farming—they can improve the quality of cocoa, the productivity of a farm, make cocoa farming safer, and minimize negative environmental impact, all for the long-term benefit of cocoa farmers and their communities. Of course, this depends on recommended practices being properly carried out and farmers having access to relevant inputs and knowledge.
The World Cocoa Foundation’s (WCF) CocoaAction strategy aligns cocoa sustainability programming across nine of the world’s leading chocolate and cocoa companies, which have come together to find and share best practices, including the best ways to measure GAP. To be successful, CocoaAction needs accurate measurement of GAP adoption rates by farmers to constantly improve upon our understanding of the tools and training that cocoa farmers most require. Underlying this premise is that learnings from across the CocoaAction companies will provide useful insights and result in better-designed support being provided to cocoa farmers. Plus, if CocoaAction companies have ownership of the measurement process, they also benefit and can incorporate cross-company learnings from the measurement data into their individual sustainability programs. But in this premise also lies a challenge: how do we measure GAP for sustainable cocoa in the context of a multi-member partnership wherein every member owns a part of the process?
In 2016, WCF published its first CocoaAction monitoring and evaluation (M&E) guide, which outlines criteria to align measurement processes. The M&E guide both defines GAP and provides support for planning measurements (how to calculate samples), including those at the farm level (how to find observation spots). Measurement within the context of a multi-member partnership walks a fine line between being open enough to account for different cocoa farmers and their farms in individual company sustainability programs and strict enough to create meaning from across results collected from the various programs. A guiding principle that is especially important in partnership settings can be summarized as, “Not as much as possible, but as much as necessary.” Following this principle, WCF and the nine companies involved in CocoaAction seek key data that reveal trends and create information that points to shared sustainability successes or challenges—those issues that we best approach as a partnership by either adjusting our sustainability strategy and the support provided through it, or requiring more investigation.
Because the partnership entails a balance between in-depth and general coverage, data collectors play a key role: they need to discover, through farm observations and dialogue, if a farmer has challenges in applying GAP. For example, if a pest and/or a plant disease is a problem on the farm, the actions that a farmer is undertaking to manage or reduce the problem can indicate whether the farmer is sufficiently informed about the problem and has the means to address it. The information required to enable companies through CocoaAction to support cocoa farmers and thereby achieve a more sustainable cocoa supply chain is contingent on the competency and ability of the data collector to independently assess and collect quality data from the farmer on his/her adoption of GAP. For the CocoaAction partnership, it is especially important to know that all data collectors have received similar, aligned training on how to measure GAP.
In 2017, CocoaAction has taken a significant step forward in aligning measurement practices: WCF assembled more than 50 data collectors, measurement coordinators, and trainers from 13 organizations for three separate two-day training sessions that were held in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the world’s top two cocoa producing countries and, not coincidentally, where CocoaAction is currently active. Sustainability practitioners from CocoaAction companies and their partners joined with government agriculture specialists and WCF experts to assess cocoa GAP, log scores and collect other vital information from farmers on their management practices. Teams visited cocoa farms and practiced how to measure and collect data on GAP while adhering to the CocoaAction M&E Guide. These trainings yielded unexpected positive results: not only did session participants experience first-hand the ‘life of a data collector’ (including torrential rainfall, remote farms, and spontaneously improvised means of transportation to/from sites), they created improved data collection support documents and through their learnings laid the groundwork for a revised M&E Guide that will be published later this year.
The joint trainings that took place during these sessions help ensure that best practices in sustainability activities that involve multi-member partnerships will continue to improve and achieve unprecedented consistency across the CocoaAction companies and partners. The trainings also bolster three essential pillars of measuring partnership-supported cocoa sustainability GAP: 1) improve every member’s capacity to design the most effective sustainability programs; 2) provide information at the partnership level that shows trends in sustainability practice, and 3) establish and nurture a direct link between sustainability strategy and a farmer’s actions and capacities.