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Sustainable cocoa farming: what does it really mean?

There is plenty of discussion about the need for more sustainable farming in both West Africa and further afield, but what is sustainable farming in reality, how can it be implemented? How can the products of sustainable farming be certified, and will this benefit farmers in Ghana’s cocoa sector?

What is sustainable farming?

Essentially, sustainable farming is intended to ensure that agricultural practices can be carried out over a longer term period, without damage to the productivity of the farm or to the wider environment. It has been recognised that environmental damage caused by farming can, in turn, affect the productivity of the farms themselves. For example, the use of pesticides and fertilizers can inflict long term environmental damage.

Sustainable farms work to maintain the quality of soil and water and of the crops themselves by using best practices. This also allows them to improve the quality of life of the farmers, their families, and wider rural communities. Sustainable farms make use of modern labour practices and do not use child labour.

Cocoa, while an important crop for Ghana’s economy, faces particular threats in the form of poor soil fertility management, aging tree stocks, improper use of chemicals, and uncontrolled deforestation.

Sustainable farming in Ghana’s cocoa industry

Finatrade Group and its subsidiaries, like Akuafo Adamfo, are major participants in the cocoa farming sector in Ghana. Our cocoa distribution model and our strong relationships with cocoa farmers means that we are able to work closely with farmers to develop sustainable practices in the West African cocoa sector. This includes providing finance, training, equipment and supplies that can enable farmers to approach cocoa using internationally recognised sustainable farming applications.

Cocoa is a particularly important crop for Ghana economically, and it is vital that Ghana cocoa farmers maintain farms that will continue to support future generations without harming the rural ecosystem. Sustainable farming can also enhance overall productivity and ensure a better quality crop is achieved.

Akuafo Adamfo has a dedicated education and training team of cocoa experts that travel the country, helping to answer farmers’ questions about the latest best practices and advising on how they can certify their crops under widely accepted international schemes.

Certifying sustainable cocoa

Consumers of cocoa are increasingly demanding that companies source crops that come from sustainable farms. This is part of a global effort to ensure farming is less harmful to both the environment and local communities. A range of major global food firms like Heinz, Mars and Nestle have already expressed their support for an international program, and more are signing up all the time.

Called UTZ Certified, this program has been adopted and supported by major partners in the global cocoa, tea and coffee trades. It includes food manufacturers, participants in the supply chain, and farmers themselves. As of 2014, over 18,000 cocoa farmers in Ghana have become UTZ certified. The certificate is applied to cocoa that comes from their farms, and is a mark of guarantee that they have been using recognised sustainable farming practices.

The ultimate aim of the program is to ensure that sustainable cocoa can be traced from the product on the shelf to the farm that harvested it and that ongoing monitoring and inspection of farms can be carried out regularly. Cocoa farmers must be prepared not only to implement sustainable practices, but to ensure they continue to comply with them on an ongoing basis.

A global standard with local impact

While UTZ Certified was introduced in 2002 to cover the coffee market, its use has become widespread in the global cocoa marketplace. Certified cocoa is likely to command a higher price from international buyers and ensure a better income for farmers and their families in the future. The number of farmers in Ghana who have been granted UTZ certification is increasing all the time, and with it improving the quality and efficiency of Ghana’s cocoa farms and farming communities.

For more information on Finatrade’s activities in UTZ-certified cocoa farming, please contact Akuafo Adamfo +233 244 353 333 or email aamc@finatradegroup.com