By Urs Furrer, 15.10.2015
Sustainability is a competition factor. The increasing demand for sustainably produced food is a trend that can also be observed in the chocolate market. It is accompanied by an increasing interest in the origin of the cocoa used. The variety of approaches used by companies to inform their customers about the origin and cultivation of the raw materials they use is indicative of the fact that sustainability is now a competition factor.
Food producers are interested in the sustainable cultivation of agricultural commodities. Based on this trend in demand, cocoa processors have an interest in guaranteeing an adequate supply of cocoa in terms of both quantity and quality. However, cultivation must also be worthwhile for farmers, otherwise they will switch to higher-yielding crops or non-agricultural sources of income. Hence directing cocoa cultivation towards sustainability means establishing a basis for an adequate income for farmers, strengthening rural communities and keeping agricultural lands intact as a management basis.
Vertical integration is gaining in importance for sustainable cocoa cultivation. Reliance on standards and cooperation with certification organisations is one of the possibilities available for sustainable commodities procurement. However, certification only reaches a small number of farmers and is sometimes criticised for other reasons. This means that the ‘beyond standard’ sustainability activities of companies, e.g. in the context of the vertical integration of the supply chain, are all the more important. State regulations for the market coverage of certain standards would not be appropriate. Moreover, standardisation issues with an international relevance must remain the responsibility of international standardisation organisations like the ISO/CEN.
State action must be limited to the minimum necessary and prioritised. A need for state action in Switzerland cannot be identified in relation to the ecological sustainability of cocoa cultivation. The challenges facing cocoa cultivation in West Africa, the most important region of origin for cocoa imported into Switzerland, are mostly social and economic in nature. Projects undertaken by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO and the International Cocoa Organization ICCO and important private initiatives like the World Cocoa Foundation already address these challenges. CHOCOSUISSE the Association of Swiss Chocolate Manufacturers published a sectoral code on sustainable cocoa procurement as far back as five years ago. The Schweizerische Stiftung der Kakao- und Schokoladewirtschaft (Swiss Foundation for the Cocoa and Chocolate Industry) supports activities in the pre-competitive sector and is currently providing support for an ICCO study, which is making a fundamental contribution to the long-term improvement of the situation of cocoa farmers while also taking natural, climatic and geographical conditions into account. The multi-layered problem of sustainability in the context of cocoa cultivation cannot be dealt with under the Federal Council’s Green Economy Action Plan. Hence it is astonishing to see that cocoa has come under the spotlight of this Action Plan. This would suggest a lack of ecological prioritisation.
Recommendations for renunciation are counterproductive. The cocoa imported into Switzerland is mainly grown in mixed crops in the traditional way by small farmers in West Africa. Thus the recommendation for the renunciation of chocolate consumption posted by the Federal Office for the Environment on the Green Economy Dialogue Portal, which referred to the reduction in Switzerland’s ecological footprint that could be achieved through such a measure and was only removed from the portal following an intervention, raises questions about the assumptions being made here. Such an approach would clearly be too simple and would also contradict the efforts being made by other federal authorities, companies, sectoral bodies and international organizations to improve the situation of small farmers whose survival depends on cocoa cultivation.
Editor's note: Individual contributions may reflect an author's personal perspective. Over time, the spectrum of political views will be reflected in the variety of the contributions published. Editorial principles
This opinion piece by Urs Furrer (Chocosuisse) refers to the text on “Greater food awareness”. The passage referred to in this opinion piece was reviewed by the editorial team on receipt of a comment from Urs Furrer. Because it was open to misinterpretation, we corrected the paragraph and also linked directly to the source of the information from the text (you can see the changes made below). The editorial team also invited Urs Furrer to present his opinion on the topic. At no time did the editors of the dialogue portal intend to incite people to refrain completely from eating chocolate but merely to point out that the consumption of luxury foods also has ecological impacts. The original paragraph was:
"A conscious approach to the consumption of luxury foods also reduces resource consumption. Today’s debate surrounding the consumption of alcohol, coffee and chocolate is dominated by health concerns. However, if you refrain from indulging in these temptations, you can also reduce the environmental impact generated by your diet by 19 percent. The principle of starting with small changes is applicable here. You do not have to drink wine every day. There is no need to keep a permanent supply of chocolate on your desk. And coffee can be substituted by other drinks."
It has been changed and updated as follows:
"A conscious approach to the consumption of luxury foods also reduces resource consumption. Today’s debate surrounding the consumption of alcohol, coffee and chocolate is dominated by health concerns. However, they also have a major impact on the environment: according to a study carried out in 2012 by Swiss researchers and consultants ESU-Services, luxury foods and beverages like coffee, chocolate and alkohol account for 19 percent of the food sector’s environmental impact. If you would like to reduce your environmental impact in this area, ensure that your coffee and chocolate are produced under fair conditions and enjoy wine in moderation."
Last modification 29.10.2015