Last month, I had the opportunity to visit a cocoa growing area in Côte d'Ivoire to see first-hand the positive impact that the original pilot of Nestlé's income accelerator programme is having on cocoa farming communities in the country.
To recap, the aim of the accelerator is to improve the livelihoods of cocoa-farming families and to support the transition to more sustainable cocoa farming. The way this is being done is by financially incentivising farmers and their families to take certain actions in four areas that will help them build a more profitable and sustainable business, while at the same time ensuring their children are attending school. Alongside the incentives, which go directly to the farmer and their spouse via mobile payments, critical support is provided to facilitate these actions. The programme is currently in 'test at scale' phase but is expected to roll out to all 160,000 farmers in our cocoa supply chain by the end of the decade.
Take a look at the chart below for the specifics:
My first stop was a visit to the farm of Hamed Yao Bandaman, just outside the village of Tafissou. Bandaman, a married father of eight and long-time cocoa farmer, told us that he had undertaken rigorous pruning of his cocoa trees for the first time earlier this year, spurred on by the financial incentive and the support of a trained pruning group (pruning cocoa trees properly is hard work; it can involve cutting back as much as 60% of each tree, so there is a significant benefit to the farmer in having outside support rather than trying to do it alone). Bandaman showed me the notebook in which he writes down the volume of cocoa yielded from his harvests each year. In the first and second harvests of 2021, pre-pruning, he generated 346 kg of cocoa beans. This year, in his first two harvests, the figure was 915 kg. Not only has the increased yield generated a higher income, but Bandaman has also been able to save money through using less fertiliser. This is because pruning makes the trees healthier and creates space in the canopy, enabling increased light and air to reach the trees and the ground, creating better soil and reducing the number of pests.
Bandaman showed us some of the trees he had been given as part of the Agroforestry & Income Diversification pillars of the programme. Farmers are given 20 forest or fruit trees and will receive an incentive if at least 12 of them are planted. Bandaman has planted avocado and orange trees and is also growing akpi – seeds from a fruit used to make a local seasoning. He told us he uses some of the produce for his family but sells the remainder to provide an additional boost to his income.
Later in the trip, in the tiny village of Bériaboukro, I met a group of women: wives of cocoa farmers, who have been helped by Nestlé and our partner International Cocoa Initiative (ICI) to create a Village Savings & Loans Association.
All members attend a short weekly meeting and pay into the savings fund whatever they can afford that week. In due course, they can take a loan of up to three times the amount they've invested in order to start a business. The loan must be paid back within three months with a fixed interest rate (that benefits those who are saving). I was hugely struck by the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of these women, many of whom are earning their own income for the very first time.
One entrepreneur told me that she had borrowed CFA 17,000 (about £22) to buy some maize plants. After just a few months, her first maize harvest generated three sacks of produce that she was able to sell for CFA 225,000 (about £300). This money, she told me, had enabled her to fund schooling for her two teenage children (while schooling is free, there are costs for transport, uniforms, equipment and more).
Similar stories abounded: another woman had turned a CFA 40,000 loan into CFA 250,000 by growing and selling peppers; while others had grouped together to set up a business making and selling soaps, using some of their natural, home-grown ingredients, including cocoa, honey and coffee.
There is clear evidence that when women generate an income, they prioritise spending on their children – using the money to buy food, education and healthcare. Supporting women not only empowers them but creates better outcomes for their children.
Elsewhere during my visit, I met a farmer who has been supported to start beekeeping within his farm and is now producing Nestlé Cocoa Plan honey. Other farmers are considering small-scale livestock farming.
These are early days in the income accelerator programme and there remains a great deal of work to be done. However, the commitment of the small Nestlé Cocoa Plan team on the ground, the support of our critical partners to deliver the programme, the engagement of the cocoa co-operatives and the early results attested to by farmers and the communities indicate that there is the potential for significant, tangible progress in the years ahead.
With sincere thanks to members of the SOCODD co-operative for welcoming me.