The bitter taste of chocolate: why we need to tackle malnutrition of cocoa farmers

Cocoa is a popular foodstuff everywhere in the world and key ingredient to a wide range of products. For the 2015/2016 season the International Cocoa Organization pegged production at 4.031 million tonnes worldwide. 90% of cocoa of global cocoa is cultivated by approximately 5.5 million smallholders with more than 20 million family members directly dependent on cocoa for their livelihoods. Most cocoa smallholders live below the poverty line and live on monotonous diets.

Malnourished people suffer from fatigue, are more prone to diseases and lack resilience when they have to endure shocks such as seasonal food insecurity or reduced income due to a failing harvest. In the top two cocoa producing countries in the world, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, this translates into high levels of anaemia. In Ghana 66% of the children (< 5 years) and 42% of women have anaemia. For Cote d’Ivoire the figures are even higher with 75% of the children and 45% of women anaemic. Stunting levels are also high (up to 34%) in cocoa producing regions in Côte d’Ivoire, and medium (up to 22%) in cocoa producing regions in Ghana.

There are different causes for this situation. Inadequate diets (lacking in vitamins and minerals, protein and essential fats) and diseases (such as malaria or diarrhoea) are major, direct contributors to the problem. Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire have a staple-based and very monotonous diet. Typical menus in Ghana consists of stew containing staple crops (plantain cassava, yam, rice, banku), accompanied by a sauce consisting of some vegetables (tomato, onion, eggplant), and small amounts of dried fish, with menus in Côte d’Ivoire being very similar.

Measures to improve the diet should be targeted towards improving dietary diversity. Interestingly, if you look at local markets, the issue does not seem to be the lack of availability of nutritious foods per se. Rather, a lack of knowledge on nutrition combined with a traditional food culture appears to dictate the diets. Whilst affordability also plays a role.

Companies, NGOs, and government can address these problems by working together: they can raise awareness about nutrition, stimulate better eating habits and demand, and make good food products more available and affordable.

This is in the interest of the cocoa farming families and provides an opportunity for the cocoa industry. When farmers struggle to feed their families, services like credit or fertilizer, offered by the industry to improve yields, are often diverted to meet the basic needs of food and healthcare. Investing in improved nutrition will generate ‘shared value’ through improved livelihoods and economic prosperity of cocoa producing communities.

For this reason, the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) and GAIN are joining forces in setting up the Cocoa Nutrition Initiative. This IDH led Initiative aims to develop and validate models how cocoa industry can improve nutrition of cocoa producers through addressing underlying causes of malnutrition in their standard business practice. The Initiative facilitates a pre-completive collaboration and accelerated learning on supply chain solutions for nutrition in the cocoa industry.

The first step has been set through the completion of a collective scoping effort. The above-mentioned facts and figures that describe issue of malnutrition in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire were collected through a participatory scoping exercise of the cocoa industry, GAIN and IDH. A combination of desk research by GAIN, dip-stick field data collection by the company partners, and a field observation by IDH and GAIN resulted in a clear case for the Initiative.

Several cocoa companies have identified opportunities for a nutrition prototype in their ongoing sustainability programs. Together with IDH we will develop these identified opportunities into full prototype plans which will test the viability for the cocoa industry to contribute to improved nutrition.

Download our ‘Nutritional status among cocoa farming families and underlying causes in Ghana’ desk report here

Download our ‘Nutritional status among cocoa farming families and underlying causes in Côte d´Ivoire’ desk research here

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Published 10 March