Chocolate Industry

Mars needs better climate strategies for cocoa farmers

Snickers, M&Ms, Twix bars. These candies may be found in kitchen cupboards, but their main ingredients come from much further afield. In fact, Mars Wrigley, the world’s largest chocolate producer, sources most of its cocoa, or 400,000 tonnes a year, from the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Indonesia.

As the world’s third-largest cocoa powerhouse, Indonesian farmers have a lot to lose as climate change threatens the $80 million export industry. As rainfall changes and temperatures rise, land suitable for growing cocoa will shrink by 9% by 2050. Deforestation across the country is also making fruit trees more vulnerable to pest infestations. But while climate adaptation measures are being put in place to protect smallholder farmers (those harvesting on less than five acres of land), not everyone is convinced these measures are working.

In an article recently published in Annals of the American Association of Geographers, Sean Kennedy, professor of regional and urban planning at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, examined how climate adaptation helps and hinders the lives of cocoa farmers. He particularly focused on the measures implemented by companies like Mars.

Smallholder farmers, who tend nearly 4 million acres of land across Indonesia and account for 95% of its cocoa production, often face the brunt of climate change-induced threats affecting their yield. and their benefits. To secure its own production, Mars has implemented various measures to help these producers adapt. But as Kennedy discovered, corporate action comes at the expense of farmer mobility.

[Related: Indonesia’s capital is sinking, but climate change isn’t the only culprit]

One of the mainstream climate narratives is that allowing people to stay put is the best way to help them adapt. But that ignores a history of migration in farming communities, Kennedy says.

Migration has long been used as a climate adaptation technique because it allows farmers to decide when and where they will plant, grow and process crops to avoid risk. It’s not just about agriculture – mobility is also becoming about additional livelihoods. Beyond the individual farmer and his family, different members of a household may seek temporary off-farm employment in nearby towns to reduce financial risk. But this can only be achieved through freedom of movement.

Within the larger framework of climate adaptation, however, the idea of ​​staying put no matter how the wind changes sometimes goes hand in hand with resilience, says Kennedy.

“It’s often linked to adaptation and the idea that resilience means having an increased ability to withstand shocks and not having to change what you’re doing,” he explains. “But in the case of Mars, this narrative of staying put allows them to continue producing the cocoa supply in the face of these worsening climate shocks.”

Because Mars has adopted its own system to standardize the quality of the cocoa it uses, Kennedy argues that they create a financial dependency for farmers. The standards require growers to use expensive fertilizers and pesticides. In the worst case, this can cause the farmer to go into debt or lose his land as collateral. Mars did not respond to PopSci to comment on its practices.

Kennedy points out that the company does not explicitly call these procedures climate adaptation, but at the very least they are described as measures designed to benefit smallholders. Overseas, Mars runs a production line where the company doesn’t have to take on the risk of owning the farms, but still retains significant influence. These are just a few of the ways it ensures its cocoa supply remains intact.

“A fairer solution should give people the resources to make their own decisions on their farms.”

Samuel Dupre, survey statistician with the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Program

While Mars may not call for this climate adaptation, Kennedy notes that the safeguards are meant to protect cocoa yields from labor shortages or crop disease. These hazards are increasingly shaped by climate change. In her research, Kennedy gleaned perspectives from Indonesian farmers who are increasingly vulnerable to climate change. Ultimately, these strategies put in place by Mars to boost productivity also limit the ability of cocoa farmers to use alternative coping strategies.

“Ultimately, they restrict the livelihoods that these people have,” Kennedy says. So, rather than being able to seek off-farm employment or grow other crops that might be more beneficial to them economically, [company is] reduce these opportunities to cocoa production alone.

Samuel Dupre, a survey statistician with the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Program, learned from his own experiences running microfinance operations for women in Ghana that “if you want conservation interventions to work, you have to make them work with people’s livelihoods, not in a way where you take away the ability to feed their families.

According to Dupre, who was not involved in the Kennedy study, Mars’ climate finance strategy amounts to removing individual agency from farms. “The ability of smallholder farmers to persist typically hinges on their ability to have these large livelihood portfolios,” he says. The creation of a variety of income streams through migration is a great source of security for these households. As Mars seeks to lock people in place and control what they can or cannot do with their crops and land, they threaten to strip them of the protection of diversification.

But for Dupre, there is no fair answer when it comes to big business and climate finance. “They are accountable to their stakeholders, and if they act in accordance with their mandate, they will maximize production and revenue while minimizing risk,” he says. From there, it comes down to who is going to bear the burden of risk, whether it’s companies like Mars, farmers or governments. While Dupre thinks some of Mars’ actions such as its farmer field training program could benefit local growers, ultimately decisions about change must be made by the people on the ground.

“For us in the Global North, we’re not the ones who should be making these decisions in the first place,” Dupre says. “A fairer solution should give people the resources to make their own decisions about their farms.”

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In his research on small coffee farms in Guatemala, which is currently under review for publication, Dupre found that access to different sources of information on the internet or radio was essential for producers to make these decisions. . Understanding what dangers lie in wait for their farms, how other areas they might migrate to have been affected by climate change, and what actions they can take locally all contribute greatly to resilience. Non-predatory lending was another must-have.

“Access to fair financing is huge. A massive farm or large company with access to finance to cope [climate] it’s easy, but it’s expensive to be poor,” says Dupré. “The fewer resources you have, the fewer options you have, the easier it is to take advantage and have someone else pass that risk onto you.”

For Kennedy, part of the problem is a matter of framing. By seeing these farms only as cocoa farms, they are forced into limited options. “When you just focus on the commodity as an adaptation approach, it’s all about cocoa and sustaining cocoa production without thinking about it from an individual livelihood perspective,” he says.

Moving to an approach that prioritizes livelihoods, multiple household incomes and food security from different cultures offers a more sustainable solution. But until companies do, Indonesian farmers and chocolate buyers around the world will have to deal with the risks that climate change poses to their beloved ingredients.