The coalition of NGOs behind the Cocoa Barometer have launched a consultation on farm gate prices, calling on chocolate companies and government cocoa bodies to pay significantly higher fixed farm gate prices and premiums to cocoa farmers.
The consultation comes after six months of falling global cocoa prices, which now stand at around $1,900 per tonne, down from around $3,000 a tonne for most of last year. For the first time in over a decade, cocoa prices have dropped below the Fairtrade minimum floor price of $2,000 per tonne.
The cocoa sector is enjoying a period of positive and extensive collaboration on sustainability issues, with chocolate companies and governments working together on gender, child labour, deforestation, rural poverty, and, most of all, farmer productivity.
Yet there has been very little discussion of the idea of tackling farmer poverty in the most direct way: by paying them more.
"Everyone agrees a price increase is not the only thing we need to be looking at. But it seems we are looking at everything except for how to raise prices for cocoa farmers."
- Antoinie Fountain, MD of VOICE Network
There is a dearth of ambitious approaches to tackling farm gate prices. The Fairtrade minimum floor price of $2,000 a tonne is a start, but even to return cocoa prices to those enjoyed before the last three decades of commodity price stagnation would involve tripling this amount. Adjusted for inflation, the average long term cocoa price over the last 150 years has been about $6,000 a tonne.
Barry Parkin, head of procurement for Mars and chair of the World Cocoa Foundation, recently acknowledged how much farther current sustainability efforts in the cocoa sector have to go before farmers receive anything resembling a living income.
Speaking at the World Cocoa Conference 2016, he highlighted the need to triple or quadruple farmers' incomes to make cocoa farming an attractive proposition for the next generation.
"We can double or more the yield, we can double the income - which is a good start - but it's not yet sustainable. To get to sustainable we've got to triple or quadruple the income. That's the harsh reality... to get to a living income, a level where farmers are thriving, where the next generation want to be farms, it's a big big step."
- Barry Parkin, Global Procurement Head, Mars
An inspiring moment last week, as around 400 people from around Europe met in Krems, Austria to plan for a European-wide movement for "food sovereignty".
The final declaration of the Krems forum defines food sovereignty as "the right of peoples to democratically define their own food and agricultural systems without harming other people or the environment".
It is subtly and profoundly different from "food security" - the dominant paradigm for tackling the problem of hunger and food production, exemplified in the "green revolution" and fossil fuel intensive, large scale, industrial farming. While crop yields have increased, around a billion people are malnourished. The dominant food system is one that aims primarily to make money rather than feed people.
What is refreshing is that these moves to establish a European campaign for food sovereignty follow in the footsteps of the peasants and farmers of the global South. The movement for food sovereignty originated in the global South and is a bold attempt to reclaim the global narrative on food production.
An inspiring video from the global peasants movement La Via Campesina explains the history and power of this idea whose time has come:
Kuapa Kokoo, the co-operative representing almost 50,000 small-scale cocoa farmers in more than 1,200 villages across Ghana, recently commissioned a striking bronze statue of a male and female cocoa farmer.
The statue stands on a road island in the centre of Kumasi, the second largest city in Ghana, and is a celebration of cocoa farming and its important role in Ghanaian economy and society.
Kuapa Kokoo’s managing director, Kwasi Aduse-Poku, made a speech at the inauguration of the monument to “honour our gallant and dedicated farmers whose efforts contributed in no small way to the building of our nation”.
There was a disappointing three-day UN World Food Summit in Rome earlier this week. Given that around a billion people are malnourished and suffering the effects of high global food prices, the summit could have been a great opportunity for rich countries to pull together and make real commitments to eradicate world hunger.
Instead, Silvio Berlusconi was the only G8 country leader who even bothered to attend the summit. The director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Jacques Diouf, made headlines when he expressed disappointment at the outcome of the summit, and criticised rich countries for managing to mobilise trillions of dollars to combat the financial crisis while neglecting to tackle food security.
It is disappointing because in July this year G8 leaders pledged to put £12bn into boosting sustainable agriculture in poor countries, and now that money is failing to materialise. Agricultural development aid seems to be falling by the wayside once more.
Yet, small-scale, sustainable agriculture is the future. Investing in smallholder farming will not only support the two billion people who depend directly upon it, it is our best chance of feeding the rest of us in the long term.
Tens of millions of people are now suffering the effects of increased and volatile food and fuel prices, including the world's 450 million smallholder farming households, home to around two billion people. Average food prices rose 83 per cent between 2005 and 2008