A new type of Chocothon. Ensuring the future of the world’s favorite sweet

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Chocothon: The act of eating chocolate competitively, even if you’re competing against yourself. Or your favorite hobby, if you love chocolate.

In the future, there’s a clear risk of not being able to participate in this definition of a chocothon. While I am aware of the existence of some people who do not like chocolate, with all due respect, I can better relate to people who indulge in the guilty pleasure that comes in the many forms of chocolate. As we lay back on our favorite seat with a bite of chocolate melting slowly in our mouths at the end of a rough day at work or at school, can we stop for a moment to think about what would happen if a piece of chocolate became as expensive as champagne? Even worse, what would happen if chocolate became so rare that only a few people can afford it?

Before you start thinking about how unfair the world would be without chocolate, did you know that many cocoa farmers have never even tasted chocolate? All they know are the bitter beans that come from a huge pod that looks like a volleyball. They cultivate it simply because there is high demand for it. However, they might soon stop doing that, as cocoa farming is becoming less attractive for the younger generations and adaptation to climate change comes at a price the farmers cannot afford.

Here are some interesting figures. According to the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), the chocolate industry supports the livelihoods of 40-50 million people worldwide, including over 5 million smallholder cocoa farmers who grow this valuable crop. Furthermore, almost 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from West and Central Africa, with Ghana and the Ivory Coast as the top producers. Most of the cocoa produced in these countries is grown on small (2 hectare) family farms.  

Figures from African Development Bank Group show that current global cocoa production has an approximate value of $12 billion USD on the export market, with cocoa farmers receiving only $8 billion USD in revenue. Shockingly, the share of cocoa farmers has declined from 16% in the 80’s to 6% today. With these figures in mind, it is no wonder young cocoa farmers wouldn’t want to endure the hardships of an unrewarding business.

However, there are some projects in place that support Ghanaian cocoa farmers. I heard about the first one when I met Sophi Tranchell, the managing director of Divine Chocolate. At the Social Enterprise World Forum in 2015, she revealed that 44% of the company is owned by the Kuapa Kokoo farmer cooperative in Ghana. This way the farmers have access to different streams of revenue to ensure a fair income. Ms. Tranchell highlighted that making cocoa farming worthwhile requires several factors, including encouraging a future generation of cocoa farmers.

Another example is the Cocoa Livelihoods Program  (CLP) of the World Cocoa Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The program aims at increasing the productivity of cocoa farms in West Africa to 1,000 tons/ha by 2019. To achieve this, farmers are provided with training on good agricultural practices and particular consideration is given to gender issues.

However, with the rise in agricultural input prices and the scarcity of trained, able labour, increased productivity doesn’t necessarily translate into a sustainable income, which is also a goal of the CLP. For these reasons, the Future Food Institute (FFI) has teamed up with Google, the International Trade Center, and with support from the business school of Lausanne, is putting together an out of the box solution that empowers youth to come up with innovative information and communication technology (ICT) based solutions through a Hackathon type of co-creation event. The word hackathon is a hybrid between hacking and marathon, a so chocothon in this context would be the co-creation event dedicated to hacking solutions for the future of chocolate.

The hackathon method has been a signature approach of FFI both in education and to encourage fresh and bold innovative entrepreneurial ideas to flourish. This method borrows from fairly new disciplines such as design thinking and service design. According to Sara Roversi, the founder of FFI, the Chocothon is a powerful tool that will establish a connection between learning and doing, with the aim of sharing knowledge and encouraging creativity while highlighting the importance of teamwork and cooperation to face global challenges related to sustainability and human rights within the food value chain.

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