Last Thursday, I was invited to speak at Secretary Clinton’s Global Impact Economy Forum, a gathering of 250 high-level investors, business executives, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, academics, and policymakers, in Washington, DC. It was a great honor to have the work of the Sustainable Cocoa Initiative highlighted by the State Department and I was pleased to represent Mars Chocolate at the event.
The forum featured comments from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who emphasized that sectors should collaborate and work together to “do well and do good,” especially in the area of sustainability. Additionally, Secretary Clinton noted that the United States is missing an opportunity to invest in Africa and is falling behind others.
The panel I was a part of was on the topic of “Sustainable Agriculture: Investing in Smarter Food Value Chains,” and included representatives from US Agency for International Development (USAID), Equilibrium Capital, and Intelleflex. Moderated by Zahid Torres-Rahman of Business Fights Poverty, the panel discussion gave me the opportunity to discuss the challenges we have in transferring the knowledge we have on improving yields to the millions of cocoa farmers around the world who can use that knowledge to professionalize their farms and improve their lives.
It was also a chance to focus on the importance of industry cooperation in creating sustainable supply chains. For Mars, there is a clear business imperative for developing a sustainable cocoa system: demand will far exceed supply, by at least 1 million tons, by 2020. We know how to increase productivity, which is key to helping cocoa farmers in places like Cote d’Ivoire and Indonesia, and believe that our strategy of investing in cocoa research, a robust certification program, and technology transfer projects is an effective way to make that happen. But, as I said last week, the greatest challenge we may have is producing this kind of change at a scale sufficient to have the greatest impact on the greatest number of farmers. In order to do that, we need to work as a sector in a pre-competitive fashion to put farmers first.
It was a pleasure to be a part of an interesting and intelligent discussion about fostering sustainable agriculture. The topics ranged from how money managers are just beginning to capture the global megatrend of agricultural growth to the need to create technology for the agricultural sector with intentionality to how USAID could improve building relationships between farmers and investors. Between 30 and 40 individuals representing government, NGOs, and investors attended our panel workshop and were a lively part of the discussion that we had.
The experience re-emphasized for me that there is not a shortage of financing for important programs that will have impact, only a shortage of innovation in developing programs that can be scaled. For the private sector, the first loss often becomes a large barrier to practices changing, so successful demonstration of an unfamiliar method or new material is a must before investing will happen in programs that can be scaled. It is a reminder of how important our demonstration projects are to the Sustainable Cocoa Initiative.
Additionally, because of my participation in the forum, I was asked to author a piece on Mars Chocolate’s work in Cote d’Ivoire for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, which is available at their Web site. Read and enjoy!