Most cocoa farmers live in poverty. Despite producing one of the world’s most prized and expensive foods, they often do not earn a living income. A study from the Financial Times showed that less than 7 cents of every dollar that a consumer spends buying chocolates goes to the farmers. Retailers and manufacturers together enjoy nearly 80% of the financial benefit.
The women and men who grow cocoa are not the only farmers who see little value from their labor. A similar imbalance exists in coffee and other food supply chains. But cocoa farmers are especially vulnerable because they often are migrants. Their presence and activities on the land are based on verbal agreements, often going back generations but subject to change at any moment.
The uncertainty of their land rights makes cocoa farmers vulnerable to harassment and the threat of eviction. As a result, they are hesitant to invest in their land, or to adopt good agricultural practices, like the use of shade trees to protect the soil and mitigate deforestation. As the land degrades over time, the farmer’s productivity and income dwindles, creating greater pressure to expand into forested areas.
One promising solution to the plight of cocoa farmers is to provide them with secure land ownership and use rights. To that end, a consortium of global chocolate companies formed the Côte d’Ivoire Land Partnership (CLAP) to solve the problem of land tenure for cocoa farmers. Meridia, a FINCA investee, is the managing member of CLAP, responsible for executing the land tenure projects and ensuring they are industry-championed, government-endorsed and community-accepted. Together, the CLAP team brings a solution for affordable land documentation for farmers at scale focused on cocoa supply chains.
In collaboration with local partners and cooperatives, CLAP clarifies the existing local rights and agreements over land ownership and use. They then work with the farmers to map the borders of their land and secure formal documentation of the farmers’ rights, either as owners or long-term tenants. Once rights are clear and secured at the community level as well as legally registered, cocoa farmers have newfound confidence to invest in their land. Over time, it should also strengthen the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices (e.g., planting or keeping more trees), diversify livelihoods, and improve farmer incomes.
Meridia’s work also provides CLAP’s members with the ability to trace the source of raw cocoa they purchase with accurate farm and farmer data obtained from the land documentation process. This information helps the companies build a market for socially responsible chocolate products. It also strengthens the business case for providing technical assistance and other inputs to the farmers.
FINCA’s is creating an evaluation and monitoring system to test and measure how Meridia’s land mapping services deliver transformative social impact. This evidence will help Meridia attract support from corporate partners and other funders to expand the project in Cote d’Ivoire and other areas where land disputes are common.
As a first step, FINCA’s research team explored the many factors that shape cocoa farmers’ decision-making, ranging from the politics of migration and land tenure to agriculture extension programs and the effects of climate change. Using existing studies, we constructed a behavioral model that predicts how improvements in land security (via reduced social conflict, clarity of ownership and inheritance rights) affects farmers’ intention to improve and invest in their plots. These immediate and intermediate changes will set the stage for longer-term gains in productivity, income and sustainability.
As a next step, FINCA designed a farmer survey to collect data for our behavioral model. The survey will capture an accurate picture of farmers’ attitudes towards land documentation and its effect on farming practices. Data collection and baseline reporting will take place in early 2022. When findings from the research are available, we will publish another blog post. Stay tuned!
 CLAP members include The Hershey Company, Unilever, Cocoa Horizons-Barry Callebaut, and the German Cocoa and Chocolate Foundation. CLAP’s collaborating partners include the Ivorian Rural Land Agency and the German Cooperation (implemented by GIZ GmbH) and the local non-governmental organizations Audace Institut Afrique.