FCCI Cacao Academy

COVID-19 effectively shut down functional farmer training, and while physical distancing reduced chances for farmers to learn and keep on top of important farming and post-harvest skills, the rise of digital technology offered an opportunity for us to leverage farmer’s inherent knowledge and shared experience to develop a peer-led learning platform: FCCI Cacao Academy.

Digital communications offer an opportunity to leverage farmer connection, inherent skill sets in specific regions and a peer-led learning platform. As a response to hundreds of messages we had independently received from farmers, extension organisations and those in the industry, Dr Carla Martin, Harvard lecturer and Founder of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute and I co-created the FCCI Cacao Academy, a collaborative digital cacao farmer peer-training. 

The FCCI Cacao Academy custom-builds an evidence-based, collaborative digital cacao farmer peer-training, for farming households and the communities who serve them (chocolate companies, NGOs, agri-dev, etc.)

What separates our farmer training from others is that we are

1. Transdisciplinary (farmer-led and evidence-based); and
2. Multidisciplinary (contributing to productivity via health, livelihood, and crop improvement approach)

During reduced agricultural extension service during Covid-19 and the “new normal” the need for farmer resilience support is more vital than ever before. Our approach directly offers opportunities to under-served groups (women and youth) who often miss out on training, and is also built to be scalable to provide peer-trainings for more farmers presenting with similar needs. 

Enabling the right to education and the chance to thrive is our goal.

Carla and I chose to do this work together as we bring complementary contributions to building such a programme.  We are jointly responsible for developing opportunities, team leadership and stakeholder engagement of the FCCI Cacao Academy. Also both active in building the collaborative digital cacao farmer peer-training itself. This is a great programme together, and I respect her long-standing work in social anthropology whose current research focuses on ethics, quality, and politics in cacao and chocolate and draws on several years of domestic and international ethnographic experience. 

“CARLA AND LYSS ARE DOING IMPORTANT WORK THROUGH THE FCCI CACAO ACADEMY. IN-DEPTH KNOWLEDGE AND DIALOGUE OF THE ISSUES IN COCOA IS VERY IMPORTANT, AND THESE TWO LADIES ARE CREATING AN IMPORTANT PLATFORM FOR THIS!”

Antonie Fountain, VOICE Network

We see quick wins in the area of being able to deliver, according to farmer’s needs and wants, a diversity of topics ranging from agri-productivity to health, wealth, environmental. Additionally, we can produce better metrics for more advanced impact harvesting than is typical at the moment; benchmarking a true assessment of needs putting farmers-first to share knowledge of their challenges, participate in the identification of potential solutions, and choose for themselves which intervention to learn and try. From March to June, Carla and I spoke with various stakeholders and agreed with three organisations in Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Colombia to rapidly develop a vital education tool during ongoing physical distancing. The organisations typically had developed and deployed in-person training to cacao farmers in the past, and needed partnership to adapt in an agile way to new market conditions.  Investment from CACAO.academy, FCCI and partners brought together an investment of one hundred thousand US dollars to collaborate on delivering meaningful peer-learning to cacao farmers. We also spoke with experts and academics in the field and were able to attract a highly motivated group of students from the USA to Europe, specialising in various skillsets from digital innovation, to social science to medicine to help us assess evidence, review farmer-directed responses and create curriculum matched to suitable technology for launch. 

The FCCI and Cacao Academy collaboration is transdisciplinary in nature, multifactorial in output, evidence-based yet social enterprise in-service orientation and financial sustainability. We are built to repeat and scale.

Our way:

• Conduct a situation analysis covering: multifactorial evidence assessment in health, livelihood, crop productivity and environment, historical research, demographic data mapping and value-chain inquiry.  

• Survey and understand receiver farmer needs and map to situation analysis

• Identify and onboard mentor farmers

• Build, test, and deliver farmer training

• Impact measure outcome and adjust service (tech, content)

• Maintain, service and upgrade (tech, content, suitability) to farmer and customer needs

“In context of the FCCI Cacao Academy, farmers are in an urgent situation and need access to training that suits their needs – as defined by what they say they want, have the capacity to do, and what increases their net income.”

Friedel Hütz-Adams – Economist, SÜDWIND e.V

The FCCI Cacao Academy background: 

Cacao Farming in March 2020

In March 2020, it became clear that the 5 million+ cacao farmers living around the equatorial belt of the world were going to suffer from COVID-19 in multiple ways.  Published evidence at the time indicated that there was a high risk due to readiness and vulnerability of farmers in producing countries. 

Risk 1: Readiness

Countries which produce cacao were not prepared for nor had public health capacity to manage the pending pandemic.

The Lancet published an analysis of International Health Regulations annual report data from 182 countries (Kandel, Chungong et al. 2020), identifying specifically that countries in African and South-East Asian regions were at operational readiness to cope with the population’s needs in healthcare response. While many countries were unprepared for the pandemic itself, the aspect of preparedness was especially highlighted by The World Health Organisation which published concerns regarding existence and accessibility of infection prevention, warning and response systems, skill sets of emergency and medical response workers, as well as funding availability to invest in vital equipment.  Besides skillsets and funding, fundamental response and procedures were found to be lacking. A warning about the ‘Looming threat of COVID-19 infection in Africa: act collectively, and fast’ (Nkengasong and Mankoula 2020) was issued suggesting collaboration as a tool to strengthen potential weaknesses. Within the continent of Africa, it was evidenced at the time that only two countries had the capacity to test for COVID-19, and there was not a capacity for quarantine of suspected patients or infection control protocols for consistent deployment. Organisations within Africa came together, such as AFTCOR, Africa CDC and WHO to develop procedures for implementing social distancing, such as mass gatherings and potential closure of facilities. 

Risk 2: Vulnerability

Cacao farmers experience poor health already and often do not have adequate access to decent healthcare. Regarding respiratory strength, evidence from Indonesia demonstrates that between 10-16% of cacao farmers experience coughing, chest pain or difficulty in breathing generally (Arsyad, Nasir et al. 2019), anecdotal evidence from UNICEF Côte d’Ivoire is that farmer’s top two ailments are malaria and pneumonia. Fever and cough were the two main reasons for seeking health care for males in Bougainville research (Walton 2019). Around the world, cacao farmers lungs and other pre-existing health care conditions make them vulnerable to COVID-19, and this is combined with lack of access to general health care (Oyekale 2015) (Asafo-Adjei and Buabeng 2016) (Foundjem-Tita, Degrande et al. 2017), let alone pandemic-health care (Wang, Xu et al. 2020). Exposure to pesticides (Hutter, Kundi et al. 2018) (Hutter, Khan et al. 2018), lack of adequate, affordable and diverse nutrition (Bymolt 2018) and childhood stunting (Jessica Davis Pluess 2018) compound the health burden that farmers already face in cacao and coffee growing regions.  This maps to long-term research I have been conducting regarding multifactorial impacts from farming household health, wealth and ecology effect productivity.

Countries where cacao farmers live and cacao farmer health capacity were not in a strong position at the start of the pandemic.

Typically, cacao farmers work together with extension services, which are people and organisations, from NGOs, governments, social enterprises or charities who help them access education and training, inputs and materials, connections or support to develop and access the market. Additionally, cacao farmers work either alone, or in professional groups such as cooperatives, to harvest, process and sell their crops to traders, cacao or chocolate companies, or coordinated buying bodies. Besides family groups, village organisations and markets, this entire group is a network which surrounds farmers. For the last ten years, we have been active in cacao farmer training and received many messages from farmers, traders and organisations expressing concern that the network around farmers diminished due to physical distancing measures. Quite quickly, it was observed that trade, engagement and support was no longer accessible for farmers. Due to COVID-19 and reduced activities, farmers were no longer able to access knowledge and education, as typical farmer field schools, and cooperative group learning had stopped occurring. While it is normal in a tropical country to have disruption of services due to an environmental occurrence (hurricane or flood) or social connection challenges, the extended nature of this distancing was unusual.

Working with Antoine Fountain and Friedel Hütz Adams at the VOICE Network on a Call To Action to the chocolate and cacao industry to issue safe farming procedural changes, extend direct farmer communication, prepare for resources for women and children and organise relief funding.  800 000 USD was raised by the World Cocoa Foundation formally. Informally private companies in the cacao and chocolate sector released press releases and social media statements of support for wage increases to employees in the consuming countries, donations of food and sanitation products to populations in producing countries. The living wage needs for the millions of cacao farmers who were suddenly without income and support was significantly higher.

The Challenge

For the last two years, my research has examined the effectiveness of cocoa farmer training (knowledge transfer and new practice adoption) and what multifactorial impacts; household health, wealth, farm ecology and productivity exist. The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses framework  (Moher, Liberati et al. 2009) (PRISMA) and the QATSDD (Sirriyeh, Lawton et al. 2012) were used to review the quantitative and qualitative research on to identify the effectiveness of cocoa farmer training from 2014-2019 were searched and independently reviewed for selection, extraction, and results from West Africa, Oceania and South America. From a base of over 700, 53 studies were identified and analysed and found that there is little reliable evidence that current cocoa farmer training is effective regarding knowledge transfer and new practice adoption.

Regarding evidence of training methods; modality of training (e.g. farmer field school or travelling teacher) and length of training, organisations involved, and content was under-reported. It has not been possible to benchmark or assess these aspects in cocoa farmer training.  It was clear though that the largest barrier to farmers implementing new practices was access to financial resources, inputs and materials. Knowledge transfer, in the case of cocoa farmer training, is not the only measure of effectiveness without implementation for impact. Thus, no time like the present to co-create the FCCI Cacao Academy.

Alyssa Jade McDonald – Baertl. 31 August 2020.

More contacts
Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute  https://chocolateinstitute.org/
Dr Carla Martin https://www.linkedin.com/in/carladmartin/ / https://twitter.com/carladmartin

This topic focused on the topics of cacao farmer healthlivelihood and productivity within the context of training.

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