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Making chocolate an affordable luxury

Abidjan 20 November 2012 For over a hundred years, cocoa has been the black gold of Western Africa, despite a political trading past that has often darkened the pages of history. Now, a partnership between two unlikely organizations promises a change in how farmers benefit from the cocoa trade.

Mars Incorporated, in partnership with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and national partners, will increase the production of cocoa for smallholder farmers in Cte d'Ivoire. Through the Vision for Change: Sustainable Cocoa Communities project between ICRAF and the chocolate company Mars Inc., Tony Simons, the Director General of the World Agroforestry Center, envisions enormous opportunities for private-public partnerships that will benefit smallholder farmers, not just in West Africa but also in other parts of the developing world.

"There is no reason why a farmer should remain poor if private-public partnerships are structured in a way that provides a mutually beneficial relationship," says Simons, "We should see increased yields and greater returns for both the farmer and the multinational corporation."

Dr. Simons was speaking at the opening of the new somatic embryogenesis lab at the Centre National de Recherche Agronomique (CNRA) headquarters in Adiopodoume, Cote d'Ivoire. The lab will provide research space for work on germplasm multiplication, which will in turn provide farmers with cocoa crop that can withstand diseases and pests such as the devastating cocoa pod borer.

Globally, cocoa is produced by 6.5 million smallholder families, many of whom make a meager living from the trees. Demand for cocoa is increasing by 2% a year and to keep pace, annual production must rise by 1 million tonnes over the next decade.

The Vision for Change partnership of Mars Inc., ICRAF, CNRA, Agence Nationale d'Appui au Dveloppement Rural (ANADER) works to improve the livelihoods of farmers through research on developing improved cocoa varieties, securing markets for agroforestry products and quantifying the potential for trees on farms for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

"The Vision for Change project being brought to life in Cote d'Ivoire by ICRAF is a long-term collaboration with national institutions, industry peers and others that will apply research and technology transfer to increase yields for cocoa farmers. The program's true strength, however, is its scalability. Though this initial pilot will reach only 150,000 farmers, we believe that effective collaboration could allow the project to expand to millions of farmers across West Africa," says Josef Toledano, Mars' Director of West African Cocoa Sustainability.

A growing global population means that there is little new land to create new cocoa farms and therefore the increase in production has to come from the rehabilitation of existing cocoa farms. In 2010 alone, Cte d'Ivoire exported $2.4 billion worth of cocoa beans.

Simons sees agroforestry as a key to how the world will be fed in a changing climate, especially in developing countries. The Vision for Change project, which was piloted in Indonesia, has seen success in Papau New Guinea and has over the last three years seen growth in Cte d'Ivoire.

"Agroforestry is the cornerstone to improved livelihoods of smallholder farmers. Farming methods that incorporate trees provide a variety of products, from alternative sources of food to medicine to timber. With our current unpredictable climatic conditions trees on farms will protect and feed us," says Simons.

In a country that produced 1.4 million tonnes of cocoa in 2011, such a partnership will result in a profitable cocoa economy and improved livelihoods for the local communities. By 2020 the project in Cte d'Ivoire will be working with 150,000 farmers while the one in Indonesia currently incorporates over 40,000 farmers.

Contact: Wambui Kamiru
World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)

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