Our journey towards ethical, sustainable and nature-positive cacao
Cacao industry practices can be harmful for nature and farmers.
One taste of chocolate can provide so much happiness. But the process of growing cacao to deliver that happiness is often not good for nature or farmers. Increasing pressure on farming methods due to low payments for cacao has led to deforestation, poor soil quality, loss of biodiversity and a cycle of hardship for farming families. As cacao farmers ourselves, we have first-hand experience of the industry’s challenges.
‘Engaged Ethics’ started 20 years ago.
Working with farmers and experts in both Ghana and St Lucia, we began our journey towards a better way of farming cacao 20 years ago. In 2004 we launched our sustainability and ethical initiatives, which we called ‘Engaged Ethics’ - because we are engaged with every aspect of our cacao.
Our cacao farm in St Lucia gives us first-hand experience.
In 2006 we purchased a cacao farm in St Lucia, to develop our farming knowledge and understand what it takes to grow truly sustainable cacao. There, by trial and error (and lots of it), we gradually learned what it really takes to grow top-quality cacao in a way that is both sustainable and 100% ethical. Through hard work, perseverance, and collaboration with local communities - and no small amount of perspiration, our dream of ethical and sustainable cacao growing practices slowly became reality.
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, crucially, we support, empower and reward them for engaging in farming methods that are truly sustainable.
Our ‘Engaged Ethics’ approach to cacao growing led to a sustainable upswing in the prospects of cacao growing on the island of St Lucia, with an estimated 5,000% increase in cacao GDP in the first decade due to a substantially higher price, plus a higher yield. An estimated 300 jobs were created and cacao growing is now enjoying a renaissance across the island.
Cacao growing and production is complex and nuanced and the methods are not right or wrong – it’s a journey, not an end destination. We’re learning that we need to continually reflect, re-asses, make mistakes, take feedback, measure and evolve our ethical and sustainable practices.
Investment in Ghana cacao farming and ‘Kookoo Kuapon.’
While we established and developed farming practices in St Lucia, we were progressively investing more to support projects in cacao-growing regions of Ghana, where 97% of our cacao is grown. Ghana is an area of the world with particularly complex challenges; an area where many ethical companies fear to tread because the increasing pressure on farming methods due to low payments for cacao has led to deforestation, poor soil quality, loss of biodiversity and a cycle of hardship for farming families. At Hotel Chocolat, we’re nothing if not determined, though.
In 2002 we started working with Green Tropics Group, a local NGO, to support communities in the two cocoa districts of Eastern Region Ghana where we source our cacao, Nkawkaw and Juaso. Our mission: to empower farmers to provide a better standard of living for themselves and their families, and help improve local health and education with community projects.
As our business grew in scale and we developed stronger relationships in Ghanian farming regions, we progressively increased the price we paid for cacao. We reached a point where we could guarantee to pay a premium price per kg significantly above market-rate, equitable or better than Fairtrade. Since 2002, year on year, our price per kilo gradually increased getting farmers closer to a living income.
Then we launched our ‘Engaged Ethics’ programme working with Green Tropics to embed this into farming communities. In the UK, we call it ‘Engaged Ethics.’ In Ghana, we call it ‘Kookoo Kuapon’ – meaning ‘Supremacy in Cacao Farming’ in Twi, the local dialect of Akan. With Green Tropics support we’ve been able to identify and resolve the issues negatively impacted by cacao farming. The ‘Engaged Ethics’ programme covered the following:
- Sustainable farming training - Green Tropics has trained over 285 young people in sustainable farming since 2012. We enrolled a further 65 young farmers onto the scheme in 2020/21, teaching them the best ways to boost their harvests and take care of the environment. We also supply them with free cacao seedlings, boots and machetes.
- High quality cacao seedlings - Improving farmers’ harvests with over a million high-quality cacao seedlings. Good cacao tree varieties can be hard to find in Ghana. So, we supplied farmers with high-yield, early-bearing and disease-resistant seedlings grown on our own cacao nurseries, and ship them using our own truck. We’ve supplied 1.6 million seedlings since we started in 2002 at highly subsidised prices.
- Model farms - We’ve built three local model farms to teach good farming practices. Farmers in and around the Nkawkaw district can visit and learn how to improve productivity and sustainability on their own farms with good practices on everything from planting, pruning, and harvesting, to controlling disease. We also use the farms to test new techniques for improving cacao yields, from irrigation and composting to biochar.
- Building community projects - We built a medical centre serving over 5,000 people. The people of Osuben used to be 8km from the nearest medical care, often travelling on foot or being carried if they were too sick. In 2015, we built a 100% solar-powered medical centre that treats over 2,000 cases a year – everything from snakebites, to malaria, to expectant mothers. We also help farmers and their families to cover costs with health insurance.
- Digging boreholes - Many Ghanaians rely on rivers for their water, which can carry disease. Fetching it also takes hours, often done by children who could be in school. So far, we’ve dug 11 borewells to support local people with clean, safe drinking water.
- Radio shows - We sponsor two Kookoo Kuapon radio shows every fortnight. As well as sharing expertise and advice with the help of the Ghana Cocoa Board, the shows address farmers’ concerns about sustainable farming and their welfare.