“Together We Are Growing”
Last week, this Cocoa Life credo once again resounded.
I was in Africa, together with the other largest chocolate manufacturers and cocoa trading companies in the world, for a series of meetings coordinated by the World Cocoa Foundation. We were there in support of the cocoa industry's CocoaAction sustainability strategy. Our goal is to find common solutions to the daunting issues facing the cocoa industry.
We recognize that none of us will solve these issues alone. Only by working together can we truly transform the cocoa supply chain.
For the past year and a half, I’ve been a part of this core team. We agree on the challenges: Cocoa farming productivity in West Africa has been stagnant for many years, as it suffers from aging trees, an aging farmer population, and a youth population that’s less interested in cocoa farming. These concerns are compounded by underdeveloped infrastructure and struggling communities. The governments and our companies are doing good work to address these issues, but there is a long journey ahead.
What struck me last week was the unwavering commitment to collaboration.
My industry colleagues and I met on common ground. We were asking the exact same questions: Can we help farmers increase their income? Can we help farmers get more plants? Can we inspire the next generation of cocoa farmers? Sharing this higher purpose motivated us.
Our new collaboration as a united industry with the government was also inspiring. We met with the Presidents of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, the First Lady of Côte d’Ivoire, and the Heads of each country’s respective cocoa boards. The purpose of these meetings was to share our thinking on a new, unified industry approach to cocoa sustainability and to sign Declarations of Intent to work with the governments of these two countries, which represent almost 70 percent of the world’s supply of cocoa. The government leaders recognized and appreciated that we have put our individual interests aside and come together with the best interests of the farmers and communities in mind. We are determined to work together, to have greater impact, faster.
Especially heartening was the alignment of vision and purpose at the community level. I saw farmers sharing best practices, pooling resources for warehouses and health centers, and motivating each other. I met Madame Fanny, president of a co-op in Côte d’Ivoire supported by Cocoa Life. Madame Fanny exudes optimism and determination. Her smile is radiant. Her hard work has earned her the position of president in a male-dominated co-op. When I asked how a woman became president, people answered, “Well, she’s just the best. There was no question, because we want to succeed.”
This trip confirmed that we all want the same things. Now we can focus our efforts on forward-moving action. The challenges remain daunting, yet the promise of ongoing collaboration lifted my spirits. There is much work for all of us to do, but so much more seems possible when we all pull in the same direction.
As the African proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
We are going together.
Christine Montenegro McGrath is pictured in the group photo, above, third from the right. The fourth man from the left in the front row is the President of Côte d’Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara.