Pierre Broun, head of plant sciences for Olam Coffee and Cocoa, speaks to African Farming about the company's sustainable measures to help smallholder cocoa farmers in Africa
Innovations improving bean flavour and farm yields
“We are doing a lot of work with farming communities to improve cocoa productivity and quality. The majority of the world’s cocoa is sourced from smallholder farmers in West Africa, many of whom have small plots with older or low-yielding cocoa trees. Often yields could be improved through simple farming techniques, but farmers may not always have the skills or resources.
“That is why we have trained farmers across Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, and our other origins in Good Agricultural Practices so they can improve quality productivity on their farms, funded and equipped youth teams to support farmers with tree planting and pruning, and distributed over 1.7mn improved cocoa seedlings to farmers in the last year, all grown in our own nurseries.
“We are also harnessing the power of technology to help farmers. Using the Olam and Farmers Information System (OFIS), we can record the agricultural practices of individual farms and create tailored Farm Development Plans for each farmer to help them make the most of their land. This comes with personalised advice and recommendations to improve quality and yield.
“As a foundation, we are training farmers to preserve quality by only fermenting ripe and healthy cocoa beans. Any injury to the beans or contamination of the fermentation mass can lead to flavour defects or butter spoilage. To obtain specific flavour profiles, fermentation time, aeration and temperature may need to be adjusted; we then work with farmers to adapt post-harvest practices accordingly.
Since we are present in all producing regions of main origin countries, we have developed a strong knowledge of local cocoa, which we use to select beans, tailor post-harvest and adjust processing steps, so that we can offer the wide range of flavours, powder colours and butter qualities that our customers expect.”
Olam's sustainability initiatives in the African continent
"Last year, we launched Cocoa Compass, Olam Cocoa’s sustainability ambition for the future of the cocoa sector. It commits to improving farmer livelihoods, ensuring all children of cocoa farmers have access to education, increasing tree carbon stock across our direct supply chain.
We are also a dedicated partner of the Cocoa and Forests Initiative in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire.
We are working with our customers to promote agroforestry in all our managed programmes. Farmers are planting forest and fruit trees alongside cocoa, restoring lost tree cover as well as improving cocoa productivity for farmers and providing them with an additional source of income. More than a million new trees were planted in just Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire last year.
In Côte d'Ivoire specifically, we are working with the Ivorian government to protect and restore 460,000 hectares in two classified forests bordering Taï National Park. We have also partnered with Rainforest Alliance to teach school children from farming communities about the adverse impact of deforestation, encouraging them to share that knowledge with their families.
We are rolling out child labour monitoring and remediation systems across all our cocoa origins. We partnered with the Fair Labor Association to introduce the very first professionalised child labour monitoring and remediation to Cameroon, where we worked with local cooperatives to digitally register nearly 7,000 farmer suppliers and their households."