Having just returned from a trip to Cote d’Ivoire to check in on our sustainability efforts there, I’m struck by the difference from my last visit. I was last in Cote d’Ivoire in 2010 when we signed the Memorandum of Understanding (click MoU to read the memorandum and here to watch the ceremony), just before a period of great political uncertainty. Cote d’Ivoire is one of the most important cocoa growing nations in the world, and though we have long been concerned about the welfare of cocoa farmers there, the newfound optimism I saw recently from farmers participating in the Vision for Change program is very encouraging.
When we signed the MOU a year and a half ago, we knew elections were coming and that there would likely be political uncertainty in Cote d’Ivoire. While we felt strongly that our commitment to the country and its farmers is long-term, we knew implementing Vision for Change would be more difficult during a period of unrest. Through our partnership with the World Agroforestry Centre, we were able to keep our Vision for Change program moving forward during and we can already see positive impact from our commitment. Based on the early success of our Cocoa Development Centers in 5 communities in Soubre, we’re seeing optimism and resolve – and a belief that cocoa can be an important element in improving the future of Cote d’Ivoire. This was not as evident 2 to 3 three years ago.
While there, we were able to visit our Cocoa Development Center (CDC) in the town of Petit Bondoukou. It was very exciting to see how much energy the CDC has generated in the area—while we were there, a crowd of Ivorians made a point of coming to the CDC to see the improved cocoa trees. It was an honor to share these positive discoveries with farmers who had once only seen photos of grafting and were now witnessing the growth of healthy cocoa pods and trees. It was also interesting to see how adaptable the CDC model is within different cultural contexts. Our CDC in Africa is working within a village setting, while CDCs in Indonesia are mainly individual entrepreneurs.
While at the CDC, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the technicians who had gone through training in Indonesia. Even during the difficulties at home, he was determined to stay in Indonesia because he felt strongly that his work there would help his friends and family back home. During my visit, he said to me, “I see myself as being important to the future of Cote d’Ivoire. I have a role to play in the future of cocoa and Cote d’Ivoire.”
It is very satisfying to see that our efforts in Cote d’Ivoire are taking shape and helping the farmers improve their productivity. As we head towards the 2nd anniversary of the Memorandum of Understanding, I am looking forward to hearing more from folks like regarding their success.