The main harvesting season for cocoa had just begun when I landed in Ghana at the end of November. The country is the birthplace of the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program which was launched as a cocoa sustainability initiative in 2008. As Group CEO, it is important to me to form a first-hand impression of our Farming Program in action, to learn more details about cocoa production, and, above all, to get to know the people behind our most important raw material: cocoa. Over the course of three days, I visited farmers, program trainers, partners, and institutions with whom we collaborate on-site.
Together with Martin Hug, Group CFO and executive leading our sustainability efforts, as well as colleagues from the Lindt & Sprüngli sustainability team, I flew to Accra, Ghana’s capital. The West African nation is essential for Lindt & Sprüngli – worldwide, it is the second-largest producer of cocoa per year. About 78,000 farmers in Ghana are part of the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program, supported by nearly 500 program trainers.
The first day begins early. We visit a community that is part of the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program. It is nearly a three-hour drive from Accra. We are welcomed heartily by the entire village, and then we accompany two farmers to their cocoa plantations. On-site, they demonstrate the harvest process from start to finish, from pruning trees to fermenting and drying the beans, before encouraging us to try these steps ourselves. It’s an intensive process and I was particularly impressed with the importance of proper pruning.
The impact measurement study conducted by the KIT Royal Tropical Institute in 2019 shows that farmers who have participated in our Farming Program for some time and implement the teachings from our Program’s training achieve higher incomes than farmers who have just recently joined. This shows us as a company that our approach is important and effective. Although most farmers have worked in cocoa cultivation for many years – often for several generations – the differences in yields between farmers are, in some respects, still rather significant.
Our program trainers make efforts to close these gaps daily. Many of them have completed training in agricultural sciences or similar areas. Some grew up in these communities, and others moved there and integrated into the communities after studying in the cities. They now live on-site and are fully integrated in the activities. They maintain close contact with the farmers and their families and understand their challenges. It is remarkable how much heart and soul the trainers put into their work. In return, community members treat them with great respect and value their guidance.
Thanks to this training and coaching, Program farmers are better able to professionalize cocoa cultivation. In the area of agroforestry, for example, they are shown how their plantations can become more resilient to climatic changes and how to extend a farm’s lifespan through proper cultivation of cocoa and shade trees. This allows the farmers to maintain their yields in the long term.
We say goodbye to the farmers and head to a local elementary school near the farms. Unfortunately, many schools are in a poor structural condition. They have leaks, are crumbling, or simply too small to accommodate the number of students. These conditions make it difficult to find well-trained teachers, which in turn means many parents are hesitant to send their children to such schools. This then elevates the risk of child labor – a problem which needs action from all levels. That’s why, through the Farming Program, we are helping to finance a new, larger school here and renovating the adjacent school building into accommodations for teachers.
Investment in community infrastructure is one of many essential measures needed to reduce the risk of child labor. The Child Labor Monitoring & Remediation System (CLMRS) is another central component of the Farming Program in countries where there is a threat of child labor.
Eventually, we end the day with a communal dinner with the Program’s team of field staff. The motivation of the 32 present Farming Program trainers is remarkable, and I enjoyed listening to them share their life stories.
The day is drawing to a close. I feel honored to have met so many friendly, vivacious people whose warmth and gratitude were very tangible. I have great respect for farmers – they are responsible for the high quality of our cocoa beans. Implementing the practices recommended by the trainers is a lengthy and challenging process. Yet the farmers here are motivated to learn and improve – whether young or old, female or male, inexperienced or seasoned.
On the second day we visit a purchasing clerk who buys cocoa beans from the farmers in our Farming Program. We also visit a district warehouse where the beans are inspected for quality by Ghanaian officials. Individual sacks of cocoa beans are all labeled so that, when they arrive at our production plants, we can ensure that they come from our Farming Program and can be traced back to their origin.
The second-to-last stop on our journey is a visit to Ghana’s national Cocoa Research Institute. Collaboration with scientific partners is an important component of our process; it enables us to evaluate diverse approaches to solving local challenges. For example, the Cocoa Research Institute is studying how different systems of agroforestry affect cocoa yields and a farm’s total harvest.
On our final day, we were welcomed by the Swiss embassy in Ghana. We had an insightful exchange about the current difficult economic situation in Ghana with high inflation and currency devaluation. With the Farming Program, we also aim to counteract the challenge of the associated increases in production and living costs for farmers.
After three eventful days, I leave Ghana with many lasting positive impressions and optimistic confidence. I’m grateful for the warm and friendly welcome we received and deeply moved by the positive approach of the people we met.
Thanks to these personal encounters and experiences, I was able to form a very clear picture of the local situation and the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program. The well-conceived program is being implemented on-site by many competent people. It addresses the specific needs of farmers and seeks concrete solutions to existing issues. In the future, we plan to reinforce our efforts in the origin countries of our cocoa beans. I am convinced that the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program is the right way for this.
More information on Lindt & Sprüngli's sustainability efforts can be read in the Sustainability Report 2022.