Sustainable cocoa

Sustainable cocoa

Sustainable cocoa

Building resilient cocoa farming communities

Cocoa provides a livelihood for an estimated 40-50 million people worldwide. The bulk of the product still originates from family-run farms. However, these smallholder farmers have limited access to resources and are often cut out of the trade, ending up in poverty and leaving their huge potential untapped. To ensure change on a global scale towards more sustainability in the cocoa sector, we must tackle a number of challenges first.


  • Smallholders, particularly women and young people, lack market certainty, incentives, and financial and labour capacity.

  • Cocoa price fluctuations heavily impact on smallholder farmers’ livelihoods.

  • Climate change threatens the global supply of cocoa.

  • An ageing farmer population, which curbs investments in innovation. Young people are increasingly abandoning rural areas.

  • Farmers’ organisations often lack the capability to become trustworthy business partners that can represent their members effectively.

Two pillars are at the heart of our cocoa programme in Latin America for the coming years. We focus on public-private investment models for the sustainable supply of cocoa, and push for cocoa to become an attractive and sustainable sector for youth.

Fausto Rodriguez Director of Rikolto in Latin America

Our approach

In its global cocoa programme, Rikolto tests and harvests new solutions to make the cocoa sector more sustainable and resilient.

1. We pilot innovative approaches

  • We empower cocoa farmers’ organisations to become solid business partners, to have better access to markets and finance, and to implement future-proof, sustainable practices.

  • We connect them with wholesalers, banks and other stakeholders in the cocoa sector to explore new ways of doing business and facilitate public-private sector alliances to make the cocoa sector more transparent, so consumers can make a sustainable choice.

  • We create opportunities in the cocoa sector for young women and men and empower them to revitalise cocoa value chains through innovation.

2. We learn from each other

  • Peer-to-peer monitoring across regions and knowledge exchanges between partners allow us to gain insight into what works and what doesn’t.

3. We influence the international agenda

  • The evidence we gather in the field will go to international discussion platforms: we will share successful models for the professionalisation of producer organisations, for investments in diversified cocoa production systems, and for the inclusion of young people, so other stakeholders can replicate our proven experiences.

  • This way, we move forward the political agenda and national policies in favour of a more competitive and resilient cocoa sector.

Track record

Rikolto has been running cocoa programmes in South-East Asia and Latin America for over 25 years. These are some of our achievements:

  • In South America, between 2014 and 2017, we empowered 400 young people to explore and pursue opportunities across the cocoa chain, ranging from production to processing, quality control, commercialisation of cocoa and participation within producer organisations.

  • In Central America, we have facilitated the creation of a Regional Cocoa Platform, which contributes to increased knowledge management, particularly relating to new technologies, markets and business. Ultimately, this will lead to increased knowledge and income for up to 5,000 cocoa farmers.

  • In Indonesia, 7,500 farmers are benefiting from a new inclusive business model with MARS, brokered by Rikolto. MARS agreed to train the farmers in product certifi cation and quality assurance, facilitate their access to credit and pay a premium upfront for their pre-certifi ed cocoa beans. MARS is now replicating this model with other cocoa-producing organisations worldwide.

  • In 2018, Rikolto started a cocoa programme in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We are researching the fermentation and drying methods that give the best results in terms of bean quality, and these findings will be used as a basis for designing a climate-smart strategy to build farmers' capacities to produce fine flavour cacao, ensuring constancy of quality and volumes big enough to start exporting. Pilot activities are taking place with 1 farmer cooperative with a membership total of 2,600 cocoa farmers.

  • Also in 2018, the Belgian supermarket Colruyt Group starts selling a Nicaraguan single origin chocolate produced by 206 young cocoa farmers, sons and daughters of members of our partner cooperative La Campesina. This is but the culmination of our Yes Youth Can! initiative, directed at making the cocoa sector more attractive for youth. The four-year initiative led to an increase in the cooperative’s youth membership from 5 to 11%; the setup of a youth commission with 24 youth leaders representing young farmers’ voices in the cooperative’s decision-making; and the creation of four cocoa-related start-ups. Furthermore, a diploma course on "Cocoa production in agroforestry systems" was launched for 75 youngsters from Nicaragua and Honduras, who in turn will pass on the knowledge to their peers.

  • Recently, we collaborate with Lidl supermarket to build more resilient farming communities in Ghana.

  • Over 14,000 cocoa farmers, organised into 16 cocoa farmers’ organisations
  • Cocoa-processing companies and wholesalers, including Mars, Ritter Sport, Pacari, Tcho, Chocolats Halba, Ingemann, ECOM and Colruyt.
  • National, regional and international multi-stakeholder platforms, such as the Cocoa Sustainability Partnership, the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) and the International Cocoa Organisation (ICCO).
  • Research institutes, including CIAT, FHIA, CATIE, INIAP and ESPOL.

Abdulahi Aliyu
Abdulahi Aliyu
Cocoa cluster coordinator