Chocolate that tastes good AND does good

Steve Mann cutting cocoa pods from a cocoa tree

Steve Mann works for Mondelēz International, the world’s largest snacking company and the suppliers of a lot of the chocolate we eat. Mondelēz International also works with CARE to improve the lives of cocoa farmers. In this guest blog, Steve tells us why what’s good for people is also good for business.

I must admit that when I first joined Mondelēz International, sustainability was not one of the first things that came to mind when I thought about our brands. Cadbury, BelVita and Oreo – yes. Philadelphia, Milka, Green and Black’s and Toblerone – absolutely. But sustainability? Not so much.

Like most Mondelēz International staff, I have learned about Cocoa Life and the rest of our sustainability story over the years, but these ideas remained somewhat intangible. They were figures in a presentation or talking points on a fact sheet but somehow didn’t quite seem connected to reality or everyday life.

All that changed recently when I was lucky enough to visit Ghana as a Cocoa Life Ambassador. Alongside four colleagues from across the European business, we traced through the cocoa supply chain, met with the NGO partners who help deliver Cocoa Life on the ground, and visited farming communities where Cocoa Life is a very real part of everyday life.

Visit to seed production unit
Cocoa Life Ambassadors visiting the Seed Production Unit of the Ghana Cocoa Board - Steve is 4th from the left in the back row

For the tourist in me, the trip was an incredible jolt of culture shock. From the street vendors (quite literally in the middle of the road selling through your car window), to the ceremonial commencement of all meetings which occasionally includes a ritual where each party tips some alcohol onto the ground; it was amazing to experience a culture so different from that to which we are accustomed.

At Mondelēz, we talk about the power of big and small. This is put into a mind blowing context when you realise that we, the world’s largest chocolate company, compile our cocoa from hundreds of thousands of tiny farms, many of which are run by families.

While it is amazing to have such a diverse spectrum of cultures and people as part of our Mondelēz family, it is also a stark reality that for many of these people, life is extremely difficult.

Farmers husking cocoa pods
Cocoa farmers husking cocoa pods in Awewoho-Manhyia, Ghana

The average cocoa farmer earns around 70 cents (US dollars) each day.

This income supports a household, and as you can imagine, it means a quality of life that most of us cannot even imagine. Things that we all take for granted like running water, basic education and access to medical services are luxuries to the people in these communities, and things like heating and cooling, transport by car or TV are unfathomable.

It is hard not to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation. There is need everywhere you look, and the problems all seem to tangle into one big knot of disadvantage that seems insurmountable.

However, as you meet the farmers and walk around these remote communities, it is also impossible not to notice that Cocoa Life is making a real difference.

Man drying cocoa seeds
Fermented cocoa beans being dried in Awewoho-Manhyia, Ghana

As you drive down the street you overtake kids now able to attend school thanks to their purple Cocoa Life bikes, or visit schools and universities that have been built from the Cocoa Life Community Action Plans. We met with women’s groups set up through Cocoa Life who are tackling women’s empowerment issues and investing money together to create better lives for themselves and their families. 

We also visited a midwife and nursing school which was built through Cocoa Life. Rural communities in Ghana have an extremely high infant mortality rate, partially because there are rarely any midwives to be present at birth. In one region where this school is providing midwives, the number of deaths dropped from an expected 36 per year to only two last year!

Classroom in school in Ghana
A classroom at Fawohoyeden Junior High School, part of a classroom block with an office and a library that was constructed under a Cocoa Life Community Action Plan

Most importantly, farmer wages in the communities where Cocoa Life is running have tripled. Not only does this improve the quality of living, but we have done it in a way where we are teaching farmers to make their farms more efficient and productive, which secures their businesses and helps secure our supply. This flows right through their communities and helps create a better standard of living for all.

The reality is that the problems facing cocoa farmers and their communities are numerous and very complex and there is still a very long way to go. But it is also clear that Cocoa is making some fantastic progress to improve the standard of living and sustainable livelihoods for cocoa farming communities.

Above all, having seen it first hand, I feel really proud of the impact that Cocoa Life is having in these communities. There are significant challenges, but change has to start somewhere and it is fantastic that Mondelēz International is leading the way. From what I have seen recently, we are well and truly on the right track.

Steve Mann, Cocoa Life Ambassador, is Corporate & Legal Affairs, External Communications Manager - Europe for Mondelēz International

Find out more about the impact of Cocoa Life in our report Women's leadership in Cocoa Life communities

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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.