Colruyt Group and Rikolto deepen cooperation for sustainable chocolate

Colruyt Group and Rikolto deepen cooperation for sustainable chocolate

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Over the next three years, Colruyt Group and Rikolto in Ivory Coast will collaborate with Fairtrade Belgium, the chocolate processor Puratos and UGent to make Colruyt Group's private label chocolate more sustainable. A living income for producers will go hand in hand with conservation and restoration of forests. The collaboration is part of the Beyond Chocolate initiative, which aims to make the entire Belgian chocolate sector 100% fair and sustainable.

Rikolto and Colruyt Group have already gained experience in recent years by setting up a transparent cocoa chain with young cocoa farmers from the Nicaraguan cooperative La Campesina. This experience is now being taken to a higher level. "With the new project in Ivory Coast, we are taking up the major challenge of setting up truly sustainable cocoa production in Africa," says Rikolto's Heleen Verlinden. "This is the first time for Rikolto that we will be working in Ivory Coast."

From June 2020, the partners will invest in a sustainable cocoa chain for 3 years. Colruyt Group starts with the annual purchase of 100 tons of cocoa from 102 cocoa producers.

“In addition to the market price, we will pay a living income differential, a fair trade and quality premium, a chocolate bonus and a Colruyt premium,” explains Mieke Vercaeren of Colruyt Group. The Colruyt premium ensures that the gap is closed with the so-called 'Living Income Reference' price. That is the price that enables a producer to earn a living income with a profitable company size and a sustainable level of productivity.

“Most of this extra cost goes directly to the farmer. Part goes to the cooperatives and the government so that they too can make the necessary investment, for example in schools. By increasing prosperity in the countryside, we also combat the persistent problem of child labour.”

A 'living income': more than a good price for cocoa

To achieve a structurally viable income for farmers, more is needed than just a higher price for cocoa. “Your production must be sufficiently high, otherwise you cannot generate a good income even at a high price,” explains Johan Van den Bossche of Rikolto.

It's a complex story, because at the same time you don't want to create an oversupply of cocoa. That is why we are also working on income diversification in addition to cocoa production. For example, this project focuses on training women to ferment cocoa beans locally in the villages. This means that more income remains in the village and the position of the women is strengthened.

An important key lies in increasing the productivity of the cocoa plantations. This frees up space for other crops and reforestation. Now the farmers achieve a cocoa production of 400 kg/ha. This can be raised to 800 kg/ha by applying sustainable agricultural techniques.

“In 3 years’ time, we expect to free up 50 ha for other crops and another 50 ha can be reforested. Agroforestry will be done on 150 hectares of cocoa plantations, which means that other shade trees will be planted between the cocoa trees, which will provide added value. Think of the production of fruit or wood. Planting trees also leads to more carbon storage per hectare, which is positive to slow down climate change.”

Beyond Chocolate

The investment amounts to 525,000 euros over 3 years. Colruyt Group, Puratos and IDH account for the greater part of this. From June 2021, a first new Boni chocolate tablet will be on store shelves and everyone will be able to taste this (h) honest chocolate. It is then the intention that the initiative continues to grow, so that Colruyt Group can purchase all cocoa for its own brands directly through sustainable, transparent cocoa chains.

This chain project is a first concrete step towards the creation of the sector agreement 'Beyond Chocolate', which aims to strengthen the quality and sustainability of Belgian chocolate. In concrete terms, all Belgian chocolate must be certified for sustainability by 2025. By 2030, there is another objective: to guarantee the cocoa farmers a living income.

Last year, Rikolto and Fairtrade Belgium already set up a partnership with Lidl. This led to the “Way to Go” chocolate bar, a product that has since been taken over by various Lidl divisions in Europe.

A tight division of roles

A tight division of roles

Cooperation between different partners is crucial for the project in Ivory Coast to succeed.

  • Rikolto is responsible for coordinating and implementing the project on site, in collaboration with the Ivorian cooperative ECSP and the Agro-Insight and Access Agriculture training centres. In addition, Rikolto will also guide farmers to gain easier access to credit.

  • Fairtrade Belgium will help implement and test the various elements of the “living income” concept. Until now, this has mainly been a theoretical concept, which must now be translated into the different realities of cocoa producers worldwide.

  • Ghent University will monitor and record the results of the project with a PhD.

  • Chocolate processor Puratos will focus on improving the quality of the cocoa and the training it requires.

  • Colruyt Group is the project lead and coordinates the cooperation in the chain, invests financially and is committed to purchasing from the producers in the long term and assuring them of a good price (living income reference price). This ensures a solid substructure.