Chemical cocktails, certifications and climate
From a farming perspective, a cacao SWOT has weaknesses involving a cocktail of chemical subsidies, the lack of forest protection in certifications and the unprecedented rate of climate change.
This is the 'weaknesses' part of a series of the SWOT of cacao farming as I reflect on our work in cacao farming and cacao farmer training (see strengths here). It is not an exhaustive list, it is a riff on a few ideas and a thoughtful view on some of the big topics that affect us with our hands in the soil.
Rate of climate change
While much work has been driven from non-government organisations for climate mitigation and multi-national corporations for climate adaption in cacao, there has been slow implementation of overall adaptive approaches. Although adaption to climate and climate change has been part of the human evolution forever, (Füssel 2007) surmised that what makes it new and urgent in the present moment is the ‘unprecedented rate of change’ and thus the challenges are greater than we have managed to adapt to before. As cacao farming and trading is a few hundred years old, and has overcome many challenges in the past (eg. Pest and disease sweeps) the rate of climate change and impact on cacao farming has not been experienced like this before. Thus referencing ‘how we always did it’ for agriculture departments, traders or farmers to rely on is a weakness of the industry in general.
Subsidies for chemicals cocktails
Research by (Tothmihaly and Ingram 2017) found that Indonesian cacao farm productivity increased by 75 percent between 2001 and 2013 and cite that government subsidies combined with increased use of chemicals and additional technical efficiency contributed to the gain. A key contributor to strong cacao futures is the sustainability of it’s processes. Government subsidies have been a long tool for industry development over the centuries and it is important to look at what the subsidies are for and what practices it promotes (or disincentives). As the C02 tax topic rises in Europe and groups around the world start to question government subsidies for oil and coal industries, the same level of review needs to happen with chemicals and farming (eg. Cacao). As a commodity product which systemically disadvantages cacao farmers and profits chocolate manufactures it is a vital nudge to review the effectiveness of. While research regarding environmental footprint from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the peak scientific body for the United Nations) (IPCC 2014) and EAT Lancet (the peak medical journal) (Willett, Rockström et al. 2019) point to agriculture as being a key driver of environmental degradation (emissions and water use) subsidized agri-chemical can be considered a weakness in the current cacao farming sphere.
One might even come to think that agri-chemical subsidies contributes directly to environmental destruction.
The research points out that effectiveness of the famers producing better yield also come from technical improvement in farming process (secondary to subsidies and chemicals). Although requiring consistent effort improving technical efficiency in the farm (through training and implementation of maintenance methods to improve cacao tree productivity) and representing logistical time, labour and input financing questions it yields longer-term a more sustainable growth of cacao farming for families who consider the ‘business’ multi-generational or a fortress crop alongside shorter-term related cash crops, vegetables or animal husbandry.
A short summary of the research can be found here: https://www.cacao.academy/blog/EnvironmentalEfficiencyIndonesiaCacao
Certification and priority setting for forest protection
While considered by many buyers in Europe as the tool for choosing and buying cacao, (Kroeger 2017) found at the World Bank that certification programmes (UTZ, Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade International) all had ‘a’ forest protection framework, however they are very limited due to having minimal criteria for forest protection. As deforestation has been considered a key issue to address in the cacao industry (and related commodities) leveraging certification is not a sure-fire for re-forestation or forest protection. Additionally, the researchers cited research that the certification has had only ‘limited’ impact on contributing positively to farmer livelihood and poverty, which many buyers in Europe consider to be a key purchase driver for choosing certification.
Choosing certification as a weakness of cacao farming is a double-edged grafting knife because it also an opportunity for the market to contribute to better conditions for farmers. Thus, this weakness is described mostly in context of deforestation role as the development of forest protection has yet to be developed across the board and there are still questions regarding the role of certifications as being the panacea for farmer livelihood and poverty alleviation.
Much can be read in the annual cacao industry review CACAO Barometer (Fountain 2018) about the benefits and challenges of certification and impacts directly in cacao, and also reflected here "Impact of UTZ Certification of cocoa in Ivory Coast." (Verina Ingram and Tanoh 2014) and "The Ambivalent Impact of Coffee Certification on Farmers’ Welfare: A Matched Panel Approach for Cooperatives in Central Kenya" (van Rijsbergen, Elbers et al. 2016) for some different views.
As the IPCC stated in their last report (see reference below), unprecedented and urgent change is required to address the impacts of climate change. From farmer to chocolate connoisseur, this applies and looking at some of the fundamental weaknesses like subsidies for chemicals, certification systems for forest protection and the unprecedented rate of climate change are the hot dry wind what can make a once fertile industry, suddenly, not yield.
What are your thoughts on weaknesses? What other ones can you think of? This list of three is not intended to be a summary of a very complex industry, however putting into context impression of solutions and actual results as evidenced by research.
Have you considered the trade weakness regarding transparency? Check out this thought piece from (Fountain 2017).
Are you looking for some uplifting ideas? Have a look at the list of strengths and see what you can contribute to from there: https://www.cacao.academy/blog/CacaoStrengthSWOT
See you in the next part of the series outlining opportunities in cacao farming!
Recommended reading and references:
- Fountain, A. C. (2017). Transparency and Accountability in the Cocoa Sector, Cocoa Barometer Consortium.
- Fountain, A. C. a. H. t.-A., F (2018). Cocoa Barometer 2018.
- Füssel, H.-M. (2007). "Adaptation planning for climate change: concepts, assessment approaches, and key lessons." Sustainability Science 2(2): 265-275.
- IPCC (2014). Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. R. K. P. a. L. A. Meyer. Geneva, IPCC: 151.
- Kroeger, A. B., Haseebullah; Haupt, Franziska; Streck, Charlotte (2017). "Eliminating Deforestation from the Cocoa Supply Chain." World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank.
- Tothmihaly, A. and V. J. Ingram (2017). "How can the productivity of Indonesian cocoa farms be increased?".
- van Rijsbergen, B., W. Elbers, R. Ruben and S. N. Njuguna (2016). "The Ambivalent Impact of Coffee Certification on Farmers’ Welfare: A Matched Panel Approach for Cooperatives in Central Kenya." World Development 77: 277-292.
- Verina Ingram, Y. W., Lan Ge, Simone van Vugt, Lucia Wegner, Linda Puister-Jansen, and F. R. a. R. Tanoh (2014). "Impact of UTZ Certification of cocoa in Ivory Coast."
- Willett, W., J. Rockström, B. Loken, M. Springmann, T. Lang, S. Vermeulen, T. Garnett, D. Tilman, F. Declerck, A. Wood, M. Jonell, M. Clark, L. J. Gordon, J. Fanzo, C. Hawkes, R. Zurayk, J. A. Rivera, W. De Vries, L. Majele Sibanda, A. Afshin, A. Chaudhary, M. Herrero, R. Agustina, F. Branca, A. Lartey, S. Fan, B. Crona, E. Fox, V. Bignet, M. Troell, T. Lindahl, S. Singh, S. E. Cornell, K. Srinath Reddy, S. Narain, S. Nishtar and C. J. L. Murray (2019). "Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems." The Lancet 393(10170): 447-492.
 Statement from IPCC website about the purpose of their work: 'The IPCC was created to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications and potential future risks, as well as to put forward adaptation and mitigation options.’