When I joined Cocoa Life two years ago, working in the Indonesian province of Lampung in Sumatra, the farms were devastated by Black Pod and Vascular Streak Dieback (VSD) disease, and the community was desperate and pessimistic. Crop diseases, poor soil nutrition, and aging trees have caused a decline in local cocoa production over the past decade, diminishing farmers’ income and their quality of life.
In partnership with the cocoa supplier Olam, we implemented training programs in Sumatra to help farmers replenish the soil and graft new branches onto old cacao trees. We also created community-run nurseries to provide approved planting materials.
As a result of these efforts, crops are healthier: Before, about 60 to 70 percent of crops were lost due to Black Pod and VSD; after the training and farmers’ adoption of it, only 10 to 20 percent were lost. As part of good agriculture practice post-harvest, we introduced solar dryers to improve the quality of cocoa during the rainy season, which has enabled farmers like 48-year-old Eko in Lampung to improve their cocoa and sell it at a better price. In Sukoharjo, one year after adopting the new farming practices, a 22-year-old farmer named Fredyana is on track to more than double his income.
“At Olam Indonesia, we work closely with communities to ensure our cocoa comes from truly sustainable sources,” said Nikhil Chandan, Associate General Manager at Olam. “By working with Cocoa Life, we are able to support farmers with resources and expertise to help improve agricultural practices and access to materials.”
In partnership with the cocoa supplier Cargill, we have recently begun supporting cocoa communities in South Sulawesi, launching a training, replantation, and yield improvement program in Soppeng with field implementation support from the international development agency Swisscontact.
“Cargill shares with Cocoa Life the aim of improving the livelihoods of farmers and living standards in local farming communities,” said Taco Terheijden, Director of Cocoa Sustainability at Cargill. “By training farmers to adopt sustainable practices, we can improve their yields and incomes, while supporting a long-term future for cocoa production.”
In Ujung Village in Soppeng, a cocoa farmer named H. Alimin is among those who attended our field school to learn about best practices for harvesting, pruning, sanitation, and fertilizing. “As a result, my skills are improved and I am more motivated to run my cocoa business,” he said. He runs a cocoa nursery that underwent repairs with the program’s support, and now it is providing local farmers and youth with profitable job opportunities. “I’d like to thank Cargill, Mondelēz, and Swisscontact for the valuable training and continuous monitoring that keep us cocoa farmers still highly motivated to grow cocoa,” he said.
In 2014, Cocoa Life conducted a needs assessment to identify community members’ priorities in five key areas: farming, livelihood, youth, environment, and community, including women’s empowerment. We assembled a group of farmers, community partners, supply chain partners, and government officials to work on addressing these issues.
Along with partner NGOs, such as Save the Children, we plan to implement a community development program to facilitate entrepreneurship for women and to provide training to help youth evaluate the opportunities in cocoa farming. This will integrate with our work to improve agricultural practices in the cocoa farming areas of Sumatra and Sulawesi — to form the holistic Cocoa Life program.
“When parents improve their livelihoods, children benefit. This is why our partnership with Cocoa Life is exciting and welcome; it will empower women and youth in cocoa farming communities to improve the lives of children,” said Ricardo Caivano, Country Director of Save the Children Indonesia.
Today, Cocoa Life is working with more than 8,000 farmers in Sumatra and Sulawesi. By 2022, we plan to connect more than 50,000 farmers to our supply chain. Our goal is to create successful, empowered, and sustainable farming communities.
Change is not easy. For some farmers, it takes several years to adjust to the new mind-set. But once some farmers adopt the knowledge they receive from good agriculture training, others follow. Farmers have been noticing the initial success, so more are joining the farmer-training program. We’re still early in this journey, but I’m proud to see how far we have already come.