Introducing: Gentle Farming in Ghana

5 May 2022

Environment & Ethics

Being ethical is at the heart of everything we do, and it’s been rooted in our brand from the very beginning. We treat workers fairly, tread lightly on the planet, strive to leave things better than we found them and act with a conscience. Our commitment to this is more than skin deep. We’ve been working at it for over 20 years. With boots on the ground, we’ve painstakingly learned what it takes to be a truly ethical chocolatier. In Ghana, where over 97% of our cacao is grown, this is no small task. But we are nothing if not determined.

Now approaching its first harvest, our Gentle Farming program is the culmination of two decades of research, hard work and development.

What is Gentle Farming?

Gentle Farming is a framework through which we can treat our farmers with fairness while facilitating farming practices that reverse and prevent the effects of climate change.

Gentle Farming is geared to achieve three fundamental ambitions. It aims to pay the average farmer a living income, so that they can fully support their families and afford things like housing, healthcare, transport, and to put their children through a full education. It also aims to eradicate child or forced labour and ensure zero deforestation. Beyond not deforesting lands, we will actively reforest by planting trees – we’ve planted over a million to date. By increasing biodiversity on farmlands, we can help those lands recover from the effects of deforestation and protect against future climate change impact.

In return for increased payments, training, subsidised additional labour, and ongoing support, we ask our farmers to adhere to the Gentle Farming Charter.

Why Gentle Farming?

At Hotel Chocolat we believe in doing the right thing. We believe in fairness, treating people ethically and protecting the planet. For over 20 years, we have been working towards achieving these aims. Gentle Farming is a step-change in our ability to do so. To understand how we got here, it’s important to look back at our roots.

Hotel Chocolat: British cacao growers

In 2006, we purchased a cacao farm in Saint Lucia, to develop our farming knowledge and understand what it takes to grow truly sustainable cacao. Through hard work, perseverance, collaboration with local communities – and no small amount of perspiration, our dream slowly became reality. Organic, sustainable, fine cacao grown by farmers earning a living income – in communities improved by our presence.

In fact, we played an important role in the GDP of the entire island increasing by over 5000%.

As we expanded across St Lucia, we learned some key factors to meaningfully supporting farmers. Among them, a simple principle: we guarantee to buy the whole crop from every farmer at a premium price, well above market-rate. And we support them to engage in farming methods that are truly sustainable.

We called it Gentle Farming.

Taking Gentle Farming to Ghana

While we established and developed Gentle Farming in St Lucia, we were progressively investing more to support projects in cacao-growing regions of Ghana, where 97% of our cacao is grown.

As our business grew in scale and developed stronger relationships in farming regions, we progressively increased the price we pay for cacao. We reached a point where we could level up our support to the farming families that make Hotel Chocolat possible. At that point, we knew we were ready to bring Gentle Farming to Ghana.

Ghana is an area of the world with particularly complex challenges. We went in to make a difference.

Gentle Farminglaunched in Ghana in September 2021 and is open to all our approximately 2,500 partner farmers in Ghana.

How does Gentle Farming work?

We’ve always paid our farmers well above market-rate. Through Gentle Farming we will pay a further increased price for cacao and make additional payments to farmers to support on-farm and pre-harvest activities that improve climate resilience and productivity.

Because cacao is a crop that thrives in biodiversity and loves shade, we can achieve the best of both worlds. More fertile farmlands with greater climate resilience and increased productivity leading to living incomes for our farmers.

Sound too good to be true? It took us over 20 years of learning and hard work to get here, and in many ways the hard work has just begun. But doing the right thing is rarely the easy option.

“If this works, it could be a blueprint for future ethical production” – Living Income Foundation.

What is a living income?

The new prices are calculated to enable a farmer to achieve a living income for their family that covers the local cost of living in rural Ghana.

To gauge that we are paying the right amount, we consider the average size of a farming household, the local costs of a decent basic standard of living, the size of an average farm, the volume that can be produced annually and the costs of materials and labour.

By subsidising additional labour at harvest-time, we believe it removes the need for farmers to take their children out of school and into the field.

100% ethical cocoa is a journey, not a destination

In an industry with so many complex challenges, things will still go wrong. We therefore carry out independent checks to monitor progress and compliance. For over 20 years, we have been working with a group of local environmentalists called Green Tropics Group, who carry out support activities and audits. In addition, we work with an organisation called CLMRS, who help tackle child and forced labour in the cocoa industry by carrying out farm level audits on an ongoing basis. They then give us an annual review of progress and target setting to help us achieve our aim of zero child and forced labour incidents across our entire farming community. 

Making things better

Gentle Farming is a platform to improve things on all fronts. Our vision is of farmers that earn a living income, using zero child or forced labour, in reforested, climate resilient farmlands.

As Gentle Farming approaches its first full harvest in Ghana, we will witness the improvements in productivity, environmental and living standards Gentle Farming was designed to deliver. By buying our premium, ethical cacao, our customers are actively supporting the system that makes this possible.