Our Resolution for 2020: Faster Progress on Cocoa Sustainability


Cocoa farm training school.

Many of us will have indulged our sweet tooth over the holiday season and so, as the year begins, it’s worth considering what it will take to produce the cocoa in your chocolate in a way that is better for the millions who depend on it and for the planet.  

Haruna Arko, cocoa farmer

In the good times, cocoa farming brings Haruna Arko in Ghana with what he needs to provide for his family. He can pay the school fees for his seven children and open a provision store for his wife to bring in some extra income. He even bought another plot of land to develop. 

Unfortunately, the weather, yields, and prices are highly variable in cocoa farming and Arko struggles outside the cocoa season to pay for his children’s education. His struggles are typical for the millions of farmers who toil to supply the core ingredient for the world’s chocolate. Moving more decisively toward making the cocoa sector work better for Arko and his family will be one of the big challenges and opportunities of 2020 and beyond.  

There are three big problems with the cocoa sector that must be overcome: increasing incomes for farmers such as Arko, ending child labor, and restoring and protecting forests in cocoa-growing areas. Much was achieved in 2019 but much more remains to be done.  

Farmers need to earn enough to give their families a decent standard of living and to ensure the long-term future of cocoa. The cocoa and chocolate industry is working closely with governments, farmers, and other partners to make cocoa farming more profitable and to raise farmer income.  Companies have paid extra on top of official prices for cocoa grown without child labor and deforestation.   

Industry is implementing the new Living Income Differential that Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana introduced in July 2019 to raise farmer income. In addition, companies continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars every year to make cocoa farming more profitable and sustainable. Our goal is to help farmers grow more cocoa on less land with higher income. These programs support farm renovation and diversification, strengthen farmer organizations, and increase access to financial services.  

Ediko Appo Agnes

An example of how these programs by industry are working is Ediko Appo Agnes. An urban migrant who returned to the land in Côte d’Ivoire, she boosted yields on her small cocoa farm after receiving training from a company supported cooperative in the Agboville region. 

Increasing farmer income is central to ending child labor, usually defined as work that harms a child. The primary cause is poverty. Two thirds of the world’s cocoa is grown by 1.6 million farmers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Most of these farmers are too poor to hire workers — so their children do this work.  

The biggest worry is with what the International Labor Organization (ILO) calls the worst forms of child labor. In cocoa, this means children doing hazardous work with sharp tools or pesticides, lifting heavy loads, working long hours, or clearing land with fires. According to estimates, this affects two million children in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire and the problem is not being solved quickly enough. Industry and the governments of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and the United States pledged in 2010 to work together to cut the worst forms of child labor by 70 percent by 2020. This goal is not expected to be met.   

In anticipation, the cocoa and chocolate industry is looking at new initiatives in 2020 with governments, U.N. agencies and development partners, and civil society to tackle the root causes of child labor. This will include boosting farmer income, so they no longer need to use their children as workers. It will also include improving education for children, supporting health and nutrition, and expanding child protection services. 

Cocoa farming has driven deforestation in West Africa and a turnaround will take time to achieve. Top cocoa-producing countries Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, along with leading chocolate and cocoa companies, committed in 2017 to forest protection and restoration within the framework of the Cocoa & Forests Initiative. While deforestation rates are dropping in some protected forests in response to the collaboration between industry and governments under the initiative, we still see some continued conversion of forest land for smallholder cocoa farming in other areas. 

Companies published their first individual action plans to reverse deforestation under the initiative in 2019. We will issue a progress report on these plans in March of 2020 to show that companies are taking critical steps to map and monitor the farms where cocoa is grown to ensure that forests are not destroyed as a result. But it will be several years until we can show measurable progress in restoring forest cover and reducing carbon emissions through climate-smart cocoa production.   

2019 was a year of change, new thinking, and renewed energy to do more to make the cocoa sector more sustainable. We are committed in 2020 to deepen our work with governments and farmers toward a reality where farmers earn a decent income, children are in school rather than exposed to dangerous work, and forests are conserved and restored.