Cocoa Life External Advisors: Just Back From Ghana

Progress Blog
Cocoa Life External Advisors: Just Back From Ghana

By Christine Montenegro McGrath, vice president of global sustainability, well-being, government, and public affairs, Mondelēz International - 11/23/15

They say "seeing is believing" and that was never more true than in Ghana last week. Since the launch of Cocoa Life in 2012, we've partnered with external advisors who are leaders from prominent environmental, policy, and humanitarian organizations.


Their expertise and outside perspective have been instrumental in helping us develop the Cocoa Life strategy and program with the ambition of creating a sustainable, community-based supply chain. They've challenged and expanded our goals and policies, and held us accountable along the way. After spending so long working together to build Cocoa Life, I was excited to travel to Ghana with three of these external advisors to see the program in action. They were able to meet face-to-face with cocoa farmers and communities as well as local stakeholders, implementing partners, and government officials.

The three advisors who were with us on this trip bring very different perspectives. Aidan McQuade is the director of Anti-Slavery International. A partner from our start, Aidan advises us on our approach to help eradicate child labor. Mil Niepold of The Mara Partners brings expertise in government negotiations and women's rights, and Andrew Bovarnick of the United Nations Development Programme's Green Commodities Programme, brings a wealth of knowledge on environmental practices, such as biodiversity and deforestation.

During our weeklong stay, we visited a number of cocoa farming villages in different stages of development. It was amazing to witness signs of progress, such as well-tended cocoa farms, healthy-looking cocoa pods, and a newly built secondary school. In one community, I was excited to see the women taking prominent roles and speaking up in the meeting. Another community had created their own Village Savings and Loan Associations, with members pooling their own resources. One woman described how she and her father were able to buy a five-hectare farm with a loan. After seeing this success, we discussed with our external advisors how Cocoa Life could expand this concept to other communities.

"There’s something remarkable about being greeted by a swarm of really enthusiastic, passionate people from the community. That was a profound experience that you can’t get from reading a report or sitting in a capitol city somewhere. seeing their lives directly and seeing incremental progress was encouraging, specifically when we heard the farmers’ stories saying that, with their additional income, they were able to send their kids to school and hire labor."

Mil Niepold, Mediation Expert using dialogue to find solutions to social and human rights

Although we are excited about the progress, there is still plenty to do. During work sessions with our implementing partners and the Ghanaian team, we discussed the challenges and additional resources needed for our programs, including those in Côte d'Ivoire and Indonesia. For example, we've created community groups and training programs tailored for women, and we're now exploring what else we can do to help women create additional sources of income.

While we were in Ghana, we also met with government leaders, such as those from Cocobod (the government agency that handles farmer training), the Forestry Commission, and the Director of Human Trafficking. Among many other topics, we discussed ways to sensitize communities to the issue of child labor and ways to provide education and other positive, healthy interventions for young people.

"One thing we’ve seen this week is that Cocoa Life in Ghana has been investing in a robust architecture to bring support to the farmers at scale. There are now an array of local NGOs, government and inter-governmental agencies working together that have the reach and capability to support the Cocoa Life communities."

Andrew Bovernick, Lead Natural Resource Economist and Global Head of UNDP’s Green Commodities Facility

This trip was truly a motivating and learning experience. Together with our external advisors we evaluated our priorities with a sharper understanding, and created a roadmap for our future plans. There’s no substitute for seeing progress firsthand. It's one thing to discuss programs on paper, but it's even more rewarding to see the smiles on people's faces and the pride they take in their farming communities. This trip deepened our commitment and passion to drive forward on our compelling Cocoa Life mission.