Abidjan, Ivory Coast – Nestlé Canada says that while Canadians may love their chocolate, they don’t know a lot about it. They may not know, for instance, that in Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast – the West African countries that supply about two-thirds of the world’s cocoa – production is down about 10 per cent.
The decline in production has sounded alarm bells. But Nestlé has been working with the industry through its Nestlé Cocoa Plan and the Nestlé Research and Development Centre in the Ivory Coast.
And Dr. Sergine Diop, the general manager of the Nestlé Research and Development Centre, has dedicated his career to studying ways to improve yield and the lives of farmers.
Diop says the decline in production is due to disease and old cocoa plants, which have a lifespan of about 25 years. The average yield today is about 400 kilos of cocoa per hectare from plants that are in some cases 40 years old. The political and economic unrest in the Ivory Coast have not helped either, with a government that is in no position to focus on the plantations.
In response, in late September, Nestlé launched a $120 million initiative to improve cocoa sustainability and the livelihoods of the small farmers. Diop says the $120 million will go toward research and development, agricultural experimental trials and training farmers. It will also go toward distributing 10 million new cocoa plantlets that Diop and his team developed in the centre. So far, the centre has distributed two million.
“We want to distribute 10 million plantlets in 10 years,” says Diop. “These plants can provide 2,000 kilos of cocoa per hectare and that is almost three to four times more income for the farmers without having to increase their land.”
Plantlets and training
Diop says that in addition to providing the highly efficient plantlets, the centre also provides farmers with technical training on the most sustainable agricultural techniques, which they can apply to their farms and increase output and their income. The Cocoa Plan and the centre have also built schools and provided access to healthcare.
“We believe that to have business that’s sustainable in Africa and anywhere in the world you need to have this creating shared value approach where a part of the wealth generated is really spread along the supply chain,” says Diop. “So consumers will continue to benefit with the highest quality chocolate. But all the suppliers, the farmers can also live off their products.”