Sustainable cocoa

Sustainable cocoa

Sustainable cocoa

Building resilient cocoa farming communities

90% of all cocoa is produced by 6 million farmers, the majority of which live in poverty. Guaranteed minimum prices alone are not enough for cocoa farmers to achieve sustainable livelihoods.

To build truly resilient cocoa farming communities, we must look beyond cocoa towards the farming systems in which cocoa is grown. These are often agroforestry systems combining cocoa with timber, food crops such as plantain, cassava and yam, and animal husbandry. Rikolto believes that diversification holds the key for cocoa farmers to build up resilient livelihoods and enhance their food and nutrition security.

We have boots on the ground in cocoa producing and consuming countries alike. This allows us to go beyond impact in the field. We gather evidence about successes and pitfalls and share them on (inter)national discussion platforms, to nudge sector actors such as companies, retailers, governments and consumers to co-create a more competitive and resilient cocoa sector.

Abdulahi Aliyu coordinator of our global cocoa programme


  • Smallholders, particularly women and young people, lack market certainty, incentives, and financial and labour capacity.

  • Cocoa price fluctuations heavily impact on smallholder farmers’ livelihoods.

  • Climate change threatens the global supply of cocoa.

  • An ageing farmer population, which curbs investments in innovation. Young people are increasingly abandoning rural areas.

  • Farmers’ organisations often lack the capability to become trustworthy business partners that can represent their members effectively.

Two pillars are at the heart of our cocoa programme in Latin America for the coming years. We focus on public-private investment models for the sustainable supply of cocoa, and push for cocoa to become an attractive and sustainable sector for youth.

Fausto Rodriguez Director of Rikolto in Latin America

Our approach

In its global cocoa programme, Rikolto tests and harvests new solutions to make the cocoa sector more sustainable and resilient.

1. We pilot innovative approaches

  • We empower cocoa farmers’ organisations to become solid business partners, to have better access to markets and finance, and to implement future-proof, sustainable practices.

  • We connect them with wholesalers, banks and other stakeholders in the cocoa sector to explore new ways of doing business and facilitate public-private sector alliances to make the cocoa sector more transparent, so consumers can make a sustainable choice.

  • We create opportunities in the cocoa sector for young women and men and empower them to revitalise cocoa value chains through innovation.

2. We learn from each other

  • Peer-to-peer monitoring across regions and knowledge exchanges between partners allow us to gain insight into what works and what doesn’t.

3. We influence the international agenda

  • The evidence we gather in the field will go to international discussion platforms: we will share successful models for the professionalisation of producer organisations, for investments in diversified cocoa production systems, and for the inclusion of young people, so other stakeholders can replicate our proven experiences.

  • This way, we move forward the political agenda and national policies in favour of a more competitive and resilient cocoa sector.

Our track record

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For over 10 years, Rikolto has been investing in a sustainable cocoa sector through partnerships with a wide variety of stakeholders These are some of our achievements:

  • In Peru and Ecuador, we empowered 523 young people to explore and pursue opportunities across the cocoa chain, ranging from production to processing, quality control, commercialisation of cocoa, participation within producer organisations and in national platforms.

  • In Central America, we have facilitated the creation of a Regional Cocoa Platform, which contributes to increased knowledge management, particularly relating to new technologies, markets and business. Ultimately, this will lead to increased knowledge and income for up to 5,000 cocoa farmers.

  • In 2018, the Belgian supermarket Colruyt Group starts selling a Nicaraguan single origin chocolate produced by 206 young cocoa farmers, sons and daughters of members of our partner cooperative La Campesina. This is but the culmination of our Yes Youth Can! initiative, directed at making the cocoa sector more attractive for youth. The four-year initiative led to an increase in the cooperative’s youth membership from 5 to 11%; the setup of a youth commission with 24 youth leaders representing young farmers’ voices in the cooperative’s decision-making; and the creation of four cocoa-related start-ups. Furthermore, a diploma course on "Cocoa production in agroforestry systems" was launched for 75 youngsters from Nicaragua and Honduras, who in turn will pass on the knowledge to their peers.

  • In Indonesia, 7,500 farmers are benefiting from a new inclusive business model with MARS, brokered by Rikolto. MARS agreed to train the farmers in product certifi cation and quality assurance, facilitate their access to credit and pay a premium upfront for their pre-certified cocoa beans. The model is now being replicated worldwide by Mars with other cocoa-producing organisations.

  • Cacao Okapi, the first fine flavour cocoa cooperative in eastern DR Congo, was born in 2019. Rikolto supports the cooperative to export its cocoa and to set up fermentation and drying centres. In two months’ time, 201 farmers already co-invested in the first 4 centres. We provide trainings in fermentation and drying methods that give the best results in terms of bean quality, connect the cooperative to fine flavour cocoa markets and to microfinance institutions.

  • 2020 marks the start of our cocoa programme in West Africa, targeted at achieving a living income for cocoa farmers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. We engage in partnerships with retailers such as Lidl, that go beyond paying a premium price for cocoa. We encourage cocoa farmers to become self-reliant, independent entrepreneurs, achieving an income from the cocoa they grow and from other farm activities, such as agroforestry, as well as other enterprises.

We are a proud co-founder and active facilitator of national and regional multi-stakeholder platforms in consuming and producing countries:

  • Beyond Chocolate, the Partnership for a sustainable Belgian chocolate industry to end deforestation related to cocoa and to jointly strive for a living income for cocoa growers by 2030;
  • the Cocoa Sustainability Partnership, a public-private forum uniting Indonesia’s key cocoa actors;
  • SICACAO, the regional platform for sustainable cocoa in Central America and Dominican Republic.

Rikolto also actively contributes to regional and international multistakeholder platforms, such as the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) and the Living Income Community of Practice.

Our partners include

  • Over 10,000 cocoa farmers, members of 27 cocoa farmers’ organisations
  • Cocoa-processing companies and wholesalers, including Mars, Ritter Sport, Pacari, Tcho, Chocolats Halba, Puratos, Colruyt, Lidl, Olam, Mason Gourmet Chocolate etc.
  • Research institutes, including CIAT, FHIA, CATIE, INIAP and ESPOL
  • Government agencies, such as the Ghana COCOBOD and the Conseil CaféCacao
  • Funders, such as the Belgian Development Cooperation, the Swiss Development Cooperation and the US Department of Agriculture
  • Other sector actors, like the World Cocoa Foundation and Technoserve

Abdulahi Aliyu
Abdulahi Aliyu
Cocoa and coffee programme director