Organic and fair-trade markets are no longer an unattainable dream for smallholder farmers in developing countries

©IFAD/Gerard Planchenault
Did you know that at the time of the Aztec empire cocoa beans were used as a form of currency? 
Today cocoa beans are more than just  a form of currency to the world’s six million smallholder farmers  who operate in developing countries. For them, the cultivation of cocoa beans is a concrete option to move from mere  subsistence farming to  farm enterprises which are viable, sustainable and integrated into national and global markets.

EUROCHOCOLATE international summit

On Wednesday 22 October, the international summit on “Development Cooperation in Cocoa-Producing Countries: best practices and perspectives" organized by  EUROCHOCOLATE, provided a great opportunity for the public at large to learn how investing in sustainable projects can transform the livelihoods of smallholder cocoa producers.

The summit, moderated by Piersandro Cocconcelli, (Director ExpoLAB – Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore) benefitted from the insights  of Luca Maestripieri (General Direction for Development Cooperation, Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) , José Luis Rhi-Sausi, (Istituto Italo Latino Americano - IILA), Juliàn Isaìas Rodrìguez Diaz, (Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to Italy), Paolo Pastore (Fairtrade Italia), Miguel Ruiz,( Federación Nacional de Cacaoteros - Fedecacao Colombia), Andrea Serpagli, (International Fund for Agricultural Development - IFAD) Corrado Scropetta  (CEFA - Ecuador)  and  Giampaolo Silvestri (AVSI).

The pathway to transform the livelihoods of smallholder cocoa producers

Empowering smallholder cocoa producers
Panellists agreed that the cocoa sector has a huge potential. The challenge however,  is to empower smallholder cocoa producers by transferring the technical knowledge to improve their  farming practices and  post-harvest activities.

Improving  the quality of the cocoa beans

Panellists agreed that investments in traditional agricultural value chains  such as cocoa through the use of organic and Fairtrade certification enables smallholder producers to  overcome insurmountable constraints such as lack of access to inputs, equipment, credit and to remunerative markets.  In other words, compliance with certification standards improves the quality of the final product  thus opening up the possibility to access niche  and more remunerative  markets.  
Building inclusive partnerships from production to market

All of this said, smallholder farmers know that high quality may be not enough to have a profitable business. But  high quality coupled with strong partnership with buyers, makes  access to niche markets possible. Panellists agreed that smallholders farmers need brokers who can facilitate forging long-term partnership with local governments and, private sector to develop  the cocoa value chain from production to market. 

@IFAD/Daniela Cuneo
IFAD’s experience in Sao Tome and Principe proves that! European niche markets, such as organic and fair-trade, are no longer an unattainable dream for smallholder farmers in developing countries and smallholder farmers can double their income!" said Serpagli. Before the IFAD-funded project activities began in 2003, about 700 smallholder farmers were producing and trading only at local level.  Owing to the partnerships that were developed, nearly 2,200 farmers are now growing cocoa certified as organic or Fairtrade for the international chocolate industry, and due to the average increase in annual income, farmers who were living at 25 per cent below the poverty line are now living at 8 per cent above the poverty line.

And the good news is that confectionery market leaders  like Ferrero, as mentioned by Fair Trade Italia during the summit,  are interested in buying certified cocoa produced by smallholder producers. 
Sustainable and certified cocoa production bears many fruits - it is good for the environment, it provides opportunities for national economic growth, it builds strong partnerships and it is good for consumers health. As Piersandro Cocconcelli pointed out, at the summit, chocolate is good for the heart, and no wonder why  EUROCHOCOLATE, takes place in Perugia, the "heart of chocolate”.