Author Charlotte Grant

Communications & Marketing Manager
World Cocoa Foundation

On a recent visit to Côte d’Ivoire, I met Ediko Appo Agnès. Agnès invited me to her cocoa farm and her home in Ano, near Agboville in Southern Côte d’Ivoire. She told me her story: from urban migrant to rural community leader, from housewife to trailblazer in dynamic agroforestry. As I was leaving, she said with a soft smile: “You know, I love cocoa. This is how I look after my children and myself. [Cocoa] helps a lot.”

When you work in cocoa, you have to go back to the field often, otherwise you only see the problems,” one of my World Cocoa Foundation colleagues once cautioned. Yes, we work hard every day to help the cocoa sector tackle difficult and complex sustainability issues such as child labor, deforestation and poverty. So, sometimes, we need a reminder that sustainability programs can truly make a positive and lasting impact, and that, when done right, cocoa can be a great opportunity for a West African family to get ahead.

This summer, I traveled about 2,000km in rural Côte d’Ivoire, from Meagui to Niablé, Tulakro and Ores-Krobou, to meet and interview more than a dozen farmers involved in CocoaAction, the voluntary sustainability strategy that aligns the world’s leading cocoa and chocolate companies. Here is what I learned by asking farmers about their livelihoods, their communities, their children, and climate change.

First, I heard a lot of proud farmers tout their work on productivity and progress towards a successful business model. They praised their field schools or agricultural coaching programs: “I used to harvest 1.5 tons. Now, I have three tons,” said Koffi Dibby Stanislas, from Tulakro. Sankara Lisata, the owner of a mid-size cocoa farm in Meagui, explained: “With the productivity project, production has grown,”. These farmers would like more of their peers to benefit from coaching: “The majority of farmers don’t have knowledge to grow their farms – so yields are low,” regretted Rampou Boukary in Ogoudou. “Farmers need training, so they can treat their farm as a business,” confirmed Stanislas. Konaté Basil Ulrich, from Niablé, reflected that, “nowadays, cocoa is more and more professional.

I was also told about hopes of better times to come for communities thanks to improved productivity in cocoa, with stories of freshly built houses and newly created bank accounts helping pay for children’s school – or university! – fees. Some farmers looked back at past failed ventures in the city. Sankara Lisata tried his luck as a construction worker. Life in the city did not suit him, and he now enjoys being a farmer: “With cocoa my dreams can become reality,” he said.

Most of the farmers that I met were community leaders and participated in making their villages a better place to live. For instance, there’s no love lost between Tulakro and the nearby illegal goldmining (a.k.a. ‘galamsey’) village, full of adventurous young men, shiny new motorbikes, and counterfeit sportswear shops. Koffi Dibby Stanislas participated in a community decision to protect their fields and shun galamsey: “It’s true that [gold miners] have a lot of money, but we feel there is a better future in cocoa,” explains Stanislas with pride and confidence.

A better future starts with children in school. The fight against child labor is ever present in CocoaAction communities, with sensitization posters at the cooperative, new schools opening in remote areas, and the International Cocoa Initiative distributing school supplies. The story that stayed with me most is N’Dri Kouadio Pascal’s. “When I was a child, both my parents were dead, so I grew up here and there,” explained Pascal, who has fathered 17 children from three different wives throughout his life. He came to meet me, bursting with pride, with his youngest child, a nine-year-old girl, and told me about the new school that had opened in his community. He kept saying, “I am so happy!” Pascal never went to school, but it was clear that he was extremely motivated to ensure his younger daughter received an education, and grateful for the new school and supplies.

Of course, lots of challenges remain. All the farmers mentioned how they struggle with the consequences of climate change. “When we expect rain, there’s sun. When we expect sun, there’s rain.” said Agnès. Pascal also complained about the lack of rain: “When the sun beats hard, cocoa does not have the strength”. Konaté Basil Ulrich explained further, “trees (…) give some balance to the climate. We have cut down all the big trees. We need help with shade trees.” On almost all the CocoaAction farms visited, shade tree saplings were recently planted, and existing shade trees preserved, to help restore humidity levels on the cocoa farms. In Meagui, I met a group of women who were getting together to maintain a shade tree nursery for the community. These shade trees will be planted on farms and, one tree at a time, will contribute to balancing cocoa ecosystems.

As these trees grow, let’s hope they see a larger share of Ivorian cocoa farming families participating in a sustainable and thriving sector – where farmers prosper, cocoa-growing communities are empowered, human rights are respected, and the environment is conserved.

Ediko Appo Agnès on her cocoa farm near Agboville.
Agnes's dynamic cocoa agroforestry plot, recently planted with a mix of food and cash crops, securing both short term and long term family needs
Maize is drying on a diversified cocoa farm near Abengourou - it will be sold and also fed to poultry as an additional source of revenue
Stanislas Koffi Dibby and his family have opened a general store and a mobile money outlet to generate new revenues, decreasing their reliance on their cocoa farm
Sankara Lisata shows off his productive cocoa farm near Meagui, Soubré region
Cocoa farming community of Ogoudou, near Divo