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February 09, 2012

Chocolate industry seeks to secure its West African supply chain

The big international chocolate companies are increasingly seeking measures to ensure that their supply of the confection’s main ingredient cocoa, mostly grown in West Africa, is secure.

The efforts go far beyond just cultivation issues. A key area of attempted intervention is the controversial one of child labor on family farms. In many traditional settings, it is considered entirely normal for children to take part in family farming, but there is a particular outcry about it in leading chocolate markets. Seeking to avoid accusations of supporting child exploitation, several chocolate majors have announced high-profile projects which they fund or are otherwise involved in to stop the practice.

Competing chocolate companies are coming together to support efforts for farmers to produce more cocoa to meet rising world demand.

Some of the threats they worry about: Space to grow cocoa is limited; it only thrives in equatorial climates. About a third of the crop grown every year is trashed because of pests and disease. Unstable political conditions in cocoa-producing nations also adds to the volatility in the market.

U.S.-based Hershey has just announced a $10 million project to help end child labor. The company also supports a program to provide cocoa farmers climate and pest control information by cell phone.

Other companies are involved in improving access to education and other services in cocoa-growing regions.

Will all these efforts actually help West Africa’s cocoa farmers?

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