People love chocolate, but few know that most of the world’s cocoa is grown by more than five million smallholders in parts of West Africa, Southeast Asia and the Americas.
For many years, these farmers have struggled with aging cocoa trees, pests and disease, depleted soils and unpredictable rainfall. The resulting low productivity and incomes mean farmers often lack education, information and financing to improve skills and output, keeping them and their families in poverty and limiting access to basic services like health care.
As one of the world’s largest cocoa users, we are committed to helping to build a vibrant, sustainable cocoa industry from the farmer to the factory. Our business depends on a long-term supply of quality cocoa, and we believe this begins by increasing farmers’ yields, incomes and quality of life.
Cocoa is a labor-intensive crop grown primarily in developing countries, and there has been sustained criticism of the labor practices used on cocoa farms. We have always been and continue to be deeply concerned about the use of child labor in cocoa farming . We do not accept the worst forms of child labor or trafficking in any form and are working closely with others in the industry to address these issues. We work with the International Cocoa Initiative on programs to educate cocoa communities about child labor and educate children in cocoa communities.
We have developed a four-part approach to improving cocoa farming. We are investing in science to improve cocoa varieties, increase yields, improve resistance to pests and disease and increase water and nutrient-use efficiency. We are working with cocoa growers and national agricultural research institutes to build producer capabilities and apply the results of our research to rejuvenate aging farms. We have committed to sourcing only certified cocoa by 2020 and partner with certification programs that boost productivity and growers’ incomes. Through collaboration with governments and others, we expect to amplify the positive impacts of our initiatives.
Innovation in Agricultural Science
The research we conduct and support will ultimately help increase growers’ productivity and incomes. We are breeding and distributing higher-yielding, more disease-resistant plants and developing better methods of pest and disease control. This work is led by the Mars Center for Cocoa Science in Bahia, Brazil, which opened in 1982.
Today, the Center is a hub for world-class science and collaboration and leads our work on cocoa breeding, agroforestry systems and biodiversity-rich environments and land rehabilitation. The results will enable social change, economic stability and environmental stewardship for the benefit of cocoa farmers throughout the world. To help boost the social and economic well-being of the local cocoa growing community, the Center also runs a school for farmers and children from the surrounding district of Barro Preto.
Meanwhile, our collaboration with IBM and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Center has resulted in Mars releasing the sequence of the cocoa genome so scientists worldwide can use it to develop more resilient cocoa crops.
Working with Growers to Improve Capabilities
We work with cocoa farmers to help them implement more sustainable practices. The sheer number of farmers and lack of infrastructure in some countries make this difficult, but we are making progress.
In 2009, we worked with international donor agencies, governments and others to establish Cocoa Development Centers (CDCs) in cocoa-growing regions in Asia. These centers provide farmers with the tools, techniques and training to cultivate high-quality yields. Farmers can also use planting materials from CDCs to establish Village Cocoa Clinics — local nurseries that facilitate the commercial distribution of cocoa plants, providing an additional source of income.
Based on our success in Asia, we are expanding the program to Côte d’Ivoire through our Vision for Change initiative. Our goal is to set up 25 CDCs that will reach 50,000 farmers across the country, beginning in Soubré, the country’s main cocoa-growing region. A first step is our work with the National Agricultural Research Center (CNRA) in Côte d’Ivoire to select the best-available trees and graft them onto older, less-productive trees. We will then work with industry partners to create an additional 50 CDCs to reach 100,000 more farmers.