Two new programmes set to tackle income inequities in cocoa farming

Photo by David Monje on Unsplash

Mars Incorporated has announced a new effort to improve the livelihoods of smallholder cocoa farmers.

Two programs will aim to support 14,000 smallholder farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and Indonesia on a path to a sustainable living income in the next eight years.

Designed in consultation with cocoa farmers and development partners and build on lessons learned from Mars’ recent efforts to improve livelihoods for farmers of mint and other raw materials, the findings from these new programs will be used to create a blueprint of interventions that Mars can scale across the cocoa supply chain.

Barry Parkin, Mars Chief Sustainability and Procurement Officer, commented on the announcement: “Ten years ago, Mars decoded the cocoa plant genome for the first time. Today we are aiming to crack the code on a sustainable living income for cocoa farmers to enable them and their families to thrive for generations.

“Efforts to improve farmer livelihoods based on stopgap measures or single issues in isolation will not create the change that is required.

“Farmers may understand what needs to be done to improve their crops and their livelihoods but might not have the market support to make those changes.

“In this new effort, we are committing to help remove the obstacles in their path, particularly lack of access to finance and the need to adapt to climate change.”

Working with a network of leading organisations including Fairtrade, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Institute for Development Impact (I4DI), and ECOOKIM, a Fairtrade Co-operatives Union that Mars has sourced from for several years—Mars will embark on what it believes could be “the industry’s most comprehensive effort to date designed to address persistent barriers to cocoa farmers’ ability to achieve a living income.”

Most cocoa today is grown on small family farms with little access to electricity, clean water, reliable roads, or quality schools.

Compounding these challenges are negative effects of climate change and persistent market failures, such as disconnection from formal financial systems, underdeveloped co-operative management practices, unsustainable prices, and lack of alternative income sources to offset market volatility.

These obstacles can leave cocoa farmers in poverty, unable to invest in or grow their businesses due to factors beyond their control.

The Farmer Income Lab (FIL), a “think-do” tank founded by Mars, reviewed more than 1,500 studies detailing common interventions to increase farmer income and found only three of them raised incomes by more than 50 percent and could be sustained over time.

Mars will apply these findings in a new test-and-learn approach that combines best-practice interventions to unlock the entrepreneurship of farmers, diversify income streams, and improve productivity to enhance farm resilience and accelerate incomes, with the aim of scaling successful measures more widely.

Michael Gidney, Fairtrade Foundation CEO, added: “Cocoa farmers and their families are struggling to make ends meet due to the changing climate, poor soil quality and long-term low prices.

“At Fairtrade, we believe all farmers should get the incomes their hard work deserves, and we know new, farmer-centered approaches are needed to transform global supply chains.

“As a result, we’re excited to be working with Mars to launch a major new program to support West African farmers improve their livelihoods and move towards a living income, regardless of their starting position.

“This program builds on Mars’ ongoing commitment to sourcing Fairtrade cocoa for some of our favourite sweet treats. By investing in strengthening cocoa co-operatives, widening access to finance, and supporting farmers in diversifying their incomes, together, we hope to achieve deeper impact for farming households.”

More information about this announcement is available on the Fairtrade Foundation website.