Mars Talks About Putting Farmers First at Chocovision 2012

I’ve just returned from Davos, Switzerland, where I presented at the Chocovision 2012 conference.  The conference brings together senior business leaders and key stakeholders in the cocoa and chocolate industry to discuss the future of the sector.  The theme for the event was “Balance the Challenge – From cocoa to chocolate – strategy, sustainability and success,” a topic about which we at Mars Chocolate have quite a bit to say.

At Chocovision, I had the opportunity to lay out the problem – declining yields and quality, which means cocoa farmers are unable to improve their incomes and reinvest in their farms – and to discuss in detail what we believe the solution is – putting cocoa farmers first.  We know that there will be at least a million ton shortfall between supply and demand by 2020.  And we know how to train farmers, and give them access to better planting material and fertilizer, in order to increase their yields by threefold.  What we must do now is make sure that hundreds of thousands of farmers, if not millions, have access to this knowledge.  And that can only be done if everyone gets on board together with larger scale sustainability efforts, especially certification.

Perhaps what was most encouraging to me was how engaged this audience of industry leaders was with the point we were making about putting farmers first in order to solve the sustainability challenge the sector faces.  We have mentioned before the marked difference between yields of corn, which have grown tremendously in the last 100 years vs. yields of cocoa, which have remained virtually flat.  But around the room, people’s mouths were literally hanging open when we presented the graph that shows how stark the difference is.

It was clear to the audience members what our approach to addressing the productivity problem is – Vision for Change, a direct intervention helping farmers on the ground in Cote d’Ivoire, and certification, helping to reach as many farmers as possible at a scale the creates meaningful change, all tied together with scientific research essential for growing more productive trees.  The President and Director General of the Malaysian Cocoa Board endorsed our approach, stating that it is possible to increase productivity among cocoa farmers to three times what growers are producing now.  It was gratifying to see that knowledgeable parties in origin countries are seeing the results of our work with the Sustainable Cocoa Initiative.

Most importantly, though, was the response we received on our call for the industry to work together at scale on sustainability.  Mars has designed several elements of our initiative to be pre-competitive, and we’re willing to work with anyone who is interested in achieving the same goals as we are.  It was heartening that the event moderator echoed our call, and especially encouraging to hear the suggestion from Kraft Foods that a small senior working group be convened to follow the example we’ve set.  Later on, the President and chief executive officer of Hershey, John Bilbray, expressed a willingness to commit to purchasing its cocoa supply from 100% certified sustainable sources.  In his closing comments, Barry Callebaut’s chief executive officer Juergen Steinemann repeated our statements that we now know how to triple yield and proposed a senior sub-group within the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) to address working pre-competitively.

You can read more about my presentation at Chocovision 2012’s blog and also see my video interview with conference organizers regarding moving sustainability efforts at scale.  We look forward to seeing a further step up in progress when the next Chocovision convenes two years from now.

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