Improving the Sustainability of Cocoa Grown in West Africa

May 23, 2018 12:30 PM ET

Improving the sustainability of cocoa grown in West Africa

Editor’s note: This is the fourth story in a series focusing on our commitment to sustainably source the top ten priority ingredients used in General Mills products. Read the first three pieces, which highlight our progress with oatswheat and corn.

Cocoa is far from the only ingredient in Betty Crocker baked goods, but when you long for a brownie, it’s likely chocolate that you’re craving.

We use high-quality cocoa in everything from baked goods to cereal to snacks. Making sure that cocoa is grown in an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible manner is a priority for General Mills.

We know consumers are increasingly interested not only in where their food comes from but how it is grown and by whom. We share consumers’ desire for transparency. For that reason, we made a commitment in 2014 to sustainably source our top ten priority ingredients by 2020. Today, we sustainably source 59 percent of the cocoa we purchase and are on track to meet our goal of 100 percent by 2020.

Cocoa’s unique challenges

More than 90 percent of the cocoa General Mills purchases is grown in West Africa, primarily by smallholder farmers. To help ensure that these farmers earn a fair price for the crop to support their families, General Mills works with key partners in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria to improve the sustainability of cocoa production, improve smallholder farmer incomes and ensure the highest quality ingredients for our products.

Cocoa farming is a labor-intensive process. The economic viability of this crop is just one of the challenges in the cocoa supply chain. Farmers often face low yields due to low productivity, degraded soil fertility, pests and other environmental factors.

Helping families keep children in school rather than working on cocoa farms is also essential. Deforestation is a growing risk in some areas due to encroachment on forest reserves and protected areas, pressure from people migration, and lack of knowledge on agro-forestry best practices.

Importance of strong partnerships

General Mills partners with our cocoa suppliers, NGOs like CARE and non-profit international membership organizations like the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) to help improve the economic, social and environmental sustainability of cocoa production in our supply chain.

And our sourcing team has embedded sustainability into our work with key suppliers to provide direct support to cocoa-growing communities in West Africa through programs that help smallholder farmers increase yields and grow high quality cocoa to improve farmer incomes.

General Mills also provides funding for programs in cocoa-growing communities to improve food security, access to clean water, education, women’s empowerment and other needs.

We have brought our three main chocolate suppliers into alignment with our sustainable sourcing goals (starting with two suppliers in 2013 and expanding to include the third in 2016) and added sustainable sourcing as a requirement for all of our cocoa purchasing contracts.

By doing so, we are using our influence and scale as a food company to help improve the sustainability of cocoa production. We also have helped improve transparency by increasing the traceability of cocoa beans from farms to our suppliers.

Making a difference

The impact of these efforts has been significant. More farmers are being trained in good agricultural practices so they can grow cocoa more sustainably and improve yields, and farmer livelihoods are improving. Here are a few highlights from the cocoa programs General Mills supports:

  • Côte d’Ivoire: 24,700 farmers have received agricultural training, 52,600 farmers have reported higher incomes and 1,500 people have been educated about the importance of women’s empowerment.
  • Ghana: 234 farmers were trained, primary school enrollment increased to 99 percent and household food insecurity decreased 25 percent.
  • Nigeria: 6,700 farmers received training in harvest practices.

“Today, following the good agricultural practices taught, the yield from my harvest is greater. Now I earn more money and am financially independent. I can also afford the school fees for the education of my children. I appreciate the training sessions and am working to raise women’s awareness about the advantages of cocoa farming.”

– Akekoua Ane Yvette, Cocoa Farmer, Côte d’Ivoire

In addition to working directly with our suppliers to address systemic challenges and enforce our Supplier Code of Conduct, General Mills also participates in broader industry initiatives to improve cocoa sustainability.

In 2017, for example, General Mills was one of 35 companies to join the WCF’s new Cocoa and Forest Initiative to address and ultimately eliminate deforestation in key West African cocoa sourcing origins. We’ve signed Action Frameworks for Ghana and Ivory Coast and have committed to developing a General Mills-specific action plan in tandem with our suppliers by end of 2018.

We will continue to work with industry partners and provide direct investment for programs in cocoa growing communities to help improve the sustainability of cocoa production and ensure a reliable supply of high-quality chocolate for our products.

“General Mills is making a difference in the lives of cocoa farmers in West Africa by collaborating with our suppliers and NGO partners who are working directly in cocoa growing communities to improve the economic, environmental and social impacts of growing cocoa,” says Jerry Lynch, chief sustainability officer at General Mills. “Our direct investment in the communities from which we source cocoa is helping to drive cocoa sustainability now and into the future.”

Click here to read other posts in our sustainable sourcing series.

John Wiebold is the vice president of Sustainable Sourcing at General Mills, based in Minneapolis. He is accountable for delivering Sourcing’s commitments to sustainably source the company’s 10 priority ingredients by the year 2020. He began his career at General Mills in 2000. More posts by this author