Gentle Farming

Gentle Farming

Gentle Farming

From ‘Engaged Ethics’ to ‘Kookoo Daakyepa’ – Investing 10% of profits into gentle farming


In September 2021, we materially step changed our support and investment for the farming families and the land they nourish that make Hotel Chocolat cacao-loaded chocolate possible. Building on our ‘Engaged Ethics’ initiatives, we launched our gentle farming approach in both the Eastern Region of Ghana and St Lucia. We’re committed to making a difference and we reinvest 10% of our annual profit into funding gentle farming initiatives.

In Ghana, ‘Kookoo Daakyepa’ means ‘a good future’ and is the essence of our gentle farming approach to deliver a holistic long-term positive environmental and social impact that we know cacao farming can deliver. It is available to 2,500 farmers we work with in Ghana and farmers on our Island Growers’ Programme in St Lucia. We pay much above market rate for cacao and make additional payments to farmers to support productivity on-farm and pre-harvest activities that improve climate resilience and productivity.

We pay an increased price for cacao – in 2022 at approx. $250 per metric tonne beans above the published price for cacao beans. Then we make additional payments to farmers to support greater productivity on-farm, including employing over 300 on-farm skilled workers to prune cacao trees to maximise yield.


Cacao and biodiversity


In addition to the payments to support pre harvest activities and improve productivity, with gentle farming we invest in agroforestry activity. In 2022 we distributed over 500,000 cacao and shade tree seedlings – to promote biodiversity and carbon sequestration. Through the work on our own farm in St Lucia we have learnt how important the cacao crop is in the ecosystem. It is a wonder crop that thrives in biodiversity and loves shade. By planting these shade trees and growing cacao in biodiverse environments we can achieve more fertile farmlands with greater climate resilience.



Cacao and biodiversity



Farmer commitment


The premium we pay and investment in shade trees are designed to support farmers in closing the gap towards a living income, improve productivity and stimulate biodiversity. In return for receiving this premium, we ask farmers to commit to:

  • Actively engaging with their coaches and skilled labour teams to enhance productivity without the use of unapproved/unsafe chemicals or mono cropping.

  • Eradicating child labour and forced labour.

  • Planting cacao and shade trees on their farms, whilst protecting nature on and near their farms. This also creates a diverse farm which leads to other forms of income for cacao farmers from crops that act as shade trees, like coconut, breadfruit and bananas.

  • Eliminating these practices: on-farm tree cutting and forest encroachment, use of illegal child labour, any form of forced labour, illegal mining activities, and use of unapproved/unsafe chemicals.



Key benefits of gentle farming


From deforestation and monocropping To plant shade trees for crop diversification that promotes biodiversity, agroforestry, resilience to climate change and farmer productivity.

From low cacao yields To pre-harvest pruning support to increase yields and reduce disease.

From use of chemicals and pesticides To organic workshops and education to support rollout of organic farming methods to reduce CO2 per metric tonne from 1.4t to 1.31t.

From child labour and modern slavery To identifying where it’s happening and working with families to eradicate.

Farms are surveyed annually, with any non-compliance leading to remediation. Our initiatives are audited annually by a third party. Our ambition is to have a meaningful positive impact on the environment and the lives of farmers and their families in the cacao industry. There are many long-term challenges in the cacao supply chain, so we will continue to learn what creates positive impact and use these learnings to further develop and refine the initiatives over time.



Cacao and biodiversity



Distributing shade tree and cacao seedlings

To increase cacao yields short term and maximise profit in a very low paying industry, many farmers prefer to grow their beans in direct sunlight. They clear other trees and their canopies, so they won’t compete with their cacao trees for nutrients and sunlight. This practice requires a lot of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which degrades the quality of the soil over time.
As cacao farmers ourselves and working with experts in Ghana and Saint Lucia, we’ve learnt the benefits of growing cacao amongst the shade of other trees. Cacao thrives in dappled sunlight so growing it under the canopies of various trees protects the soil and reduces moisture evaporation, which encourages biodiversity and increases productivity. It can increase trees’ capacity for carbon storage and sequestration, which means it can play its part in mitigating climate change.
We supply farmers with shade tree seedlings so their cacao trees can grow under the canopies of trees like coconut, breadfruit and banana trees, amongst other flora and fauna. This crop diversification also gives farmers another source of income in addition to cacao.
We also work with approximately 40 young farmers every year to convert land into thriving cacao farms. It is typically land that has been left without any farmer, often over-grown and very unproductive. We will give them 450 cacao seedlings per acre as well as shade trees to get it back up and working again.


Hands-on labour support for pruning


We work with farmers to provide practical help (labour) and knowledge on pruning practices, to help get the best possible yield while letting biodiversity thrive.
Like with any plant, when you trim the deadweight, cacao grows stronger. But on agricultural lands, the level of pruning required is so immense that it’s an arduous and costly task. We share knowledge on the most effective way to prune, to help get the best possible yield while reducing moisture evaporation and letting surrounding biodiversity thrive. We back this up with funding labour to go on to farms to support farmers directly with pruning tasks.


A journey from chemical fertilisers to 100% organic


Chemical fertilisers are often the default choice in cacao farming, primarily due to cost pressures, availability and knowledge. We’ve been working with 100% organic fertilisers and pesticides at our cacao farm in St Lucia, understanding what works and what doesn’t and have seen the result it has on helping to build a biodiverse ecosystem where cacao can really thrive. We use our learnings, alongside the knowledge of our partners, to run workshops showing how to achieve a high yield, whilst minimising the impact on the planet - supporting farmers we work with to make the change.


In summary…


Being cacao farmers and an established chocolate business means we’re uniquely equipped to help make a difference. We actively and financially support farmers who follow gentle farming practices by committing to buying their full yield at a premium above market rate. This frees them of some of the financial pressures that come with waiting for the crop yield to grow to a level that provides a sustainable living. These pressures can lead to decisions to clear new land, mono-cropping and use of child labour, which all speed up productivity in the short term, but do not create a sustainable long-term living or nature-positive practices. Gentle farming practices lead to nature-positive cacao growing and a payment above market rate for farmers, which in turn leads to a sustainable cacao farming future for them and their families. Following the gentle farming approach supports farmers with a long-term income for generations to come and can contribute positively to nature.

We spoke to Patricia Lamontage, one of our farmers in our Island Growers’ Programme in St Lucia who told us how she’s benefitting from working with us: “Bananas used to be called the ‘green gold’. Now cacao is the ‘brown gold’. Today, I sell 10 times more cacao than I sold before. This is what I tell farmers when I see them. Why waste time? Go into cacao. We have a buyer at Hotel Chocolat. 

Hotel Chocolat’s subsidised cacao plants helped me replace all our old trees that had died. I bought them by the hundreds. We planted ten acres, with banana and coconut trees in between for shade. We hired two workers to help us maintain them. Now, we’re harvesting so much! They have the best flavour as well. The quality is much better. I know because I make cacao tea twice a week and my children love it. 

Cacao farming is my passion. I enjoy the work, picking and breaking the cacao. It’s fun. It’s healthy. You’re getting exercise and using your energy. I love walking the estate in the late afternoon, around 5pm, when it’s not too hot. The birds are flying low and getting ready to settle for the evening. It feels very calm. That’s the time I enjoy the most. 

Farmers who plant cacao can employ a lot of people looking for work. I tell them, please register with Hotel Chocolat because they’ll buy all the cacao you plant. I’ve now introduced eight cacao farmers to Hotel Chocolat.  One day, my children will follow in my footsteps. They’re going to continue planting and taking care of the cacao. If you sell the land, the money will eventually be gone. But keep the estate going, and you’ll always have an income.” 



Introducing the Better Way Bar


Cacao and biodiversity


We believe in working with farmers to develop a better way: one that’s positive for nature and positive for farmers, helping both to thrive. Now, we’re introducing a new way for you to join us in driving positive change, with the Better Way Bar – where we are putting 100% of sales proceeds from the bar into funding gentle farming practices. These include the provision of free shade tree saplings, high yield cacao saplings, on-farm pruning support and labour, and organic fertiliser education.

So, for your next moment of chocolate escapism, consider the journey your bar has been on. Make a choice and choose a better way.