Much of the world’s future craving for chocolate will be met by cocoa farmers in Ghana planting cacao trees today. Mars Incorporated — a U.S.-based company that makes Snickers, the world’s biggest-selling candy bar, and other confectionary treats — supports the Sustainable Tree Crops Program in West and Central Africa.
The program, a partnership among Mars, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Cocoa Foundation, invests in research and distribution of tree seedlings to enable farmers to grow more disease-resistant and higher-yielding trees. In Ghana, the program offers farmers a chance to attend field schools to learn about improved cultivation of cocoa and marketing practices.
For its work helping farmers to produce better yields and to adopt a forward-looking supply strategy, Mars received the Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence on December 17. The award was established by the State Department in 1999 to recognize U.S. businesses that demonstrate corporate social responsibility, innovation, exemplary practices and democratic values worldwide.
“Sustainable farm practices allow farmers to increase productivity while reducing their impact on the environment. This means less land producing more crops with fewer inputs like chemical fertilizers,” said Mars’ Andrew Pederson. The plantings also ensure the candy maker a steady supply of cocoa.
“We wanted to partner with governments and nongovernmental groups to make the cocoa sector sustainable so in the next 100 years we’ll still be making and selling chocolate and profitable cocoa farmers will be part of that,” Pederson said.
The program is boosting cocoa farmers’ living status. “As farms become more productive, farmer incomes improve. This is a win-win situation for cocoa farmers and the candy maker,” said William Guyton, president of the nonprofit World Cocoa Foundation.
Mars’ work to improve incomes of cocoa farmers in Ghana will significantly help the country’s rural areas. Agriculture accounts for more than 40 percent of Ghana’s economy, with some 600,000 farmers growing cacao trees. Ghana, a country of 24 million people, has become the world’s second largest producer of cocoa after fungal infections devastated cacao trees in Brazil and Central America in the early 1990s and production shifted to West Africa, Pederson said.
Another Mars partnership — with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Cocoa Foundation, other cocoa buyers and civil society groups — trains farmers in better farming techniques. The program encourages farmers to diversify their crops so they can have several sources of income throughout the year, according to Guyton.
Mars also supports an effort with USAID and the World Cocoa Foundation to improve educational opportunities for young people living in cocoa-growing areas of Ghana.
The Award for Corporate Excellence also recognizes Mars’s leadership in the International Cocoa Initiative, a partnership of cocoa buyers, labor unions and civil society groups, to ensure that all the cocoa it buys has been produced using no child or forced labor and that farm employees work under safe conditions. “Good training and rigorous standards can raise awareness of labor issues among farmers and help to eliminate the worst forms of child labor,” Pederson said.