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Chemical management in cocoa

Limiting the chemical use on cocoa farms in Tony’s Open Chain

95% of the 1.56 million children working illegally in cocoa in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana conduct dangerous work, like spraying pesticides and the number of children being exposed to pesticides has increased from 15% to 50% (NORC report, p. 78). Cocoa farmers suffer from health problems because of misuse of pesticides due to a lack of protective measures, such as insufficient protective equipment. Ecosystems and biodiversity are threatened by the overuse of pesticides which causes an environmental imbalance. Yet, the usage of pesticides can also help control pests and diseases in cocoa, which is an essential part of sustainable cocoa farming. This shows the usage of pesticides in cocoa requires close attention and careful consideration which we conduct via Tony’s Sourcing Principle ‘Quality & Productivity’.

Implement farmer coaching programs

To reduce on-farm chemical use while ensuring healthy and strong cocoa trees, Tony’s invests in and supports intensive and comprehensive farmer coaching programs at all partner co-ops in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. The program entails two annual visits by a trained farm coach to each farm, as well as the creation of individual farm development plans by the farm coach together with the farmer or caretaker after an initial farm assessment.

Improve soil health

Healthy soils help reduce or fully prevent the need for chemical fertilisers, pesticides or insecticides. On-farm composting of organic soil matter and cocoa pod shells is promoted in all farm development plans because it helps recycle nutrients (natural fertilisation) for cocoa trees which diminishes the need for fertilisers. Composting also supports a healthy soil microfauna which reduces the chances of pests and diseases to develop because the soil microfauna kills any harmful microbes therefore prevents other insects or pests from growing exponentially, which reduces the need for pesticides and insecticides. Additionally, hedges are planted, leaves and branches are spread out on slopes, and ridges of soil are created to prevent soil erosion.

Guarantee healthy cocoa trees

To prevent fungal outbreaks and pest attacks and to maintain healthy cocoa trees, mature cocoa pods need to be harvested and cocoa trees must be well-pruned to create good aeration in the canopy and a lower humidity on the farm. Old and diseased cocoa trees should be removed from the plantation and replaced by young and healthy cocoa trees.

Use specialised labour

For tasks that require specific training or equipment, such as spraying agrochemicals or pruning cocoa trees, specialised labour groups are made available through centralised extension services organised by the partner cooperative.

Create good growing conditions for cocoa

Shade helps mimic natural and ideal conditions under which cocoa trees developed evolutionary and it makes sure the trees do not get continuous full sun exposure which makes cocoa trees susceptible to pests and diseases. The farm development plans outline a provision of 30% shade tree/native vegetation coverage per farm and we aim for 18 shade trees per hectare. Farmers are supported via the provision of free seedlings, as well as planting and maintenance assistance from the partner co-op. To prevent high humidity of the plantation and competition among cocoa trees, the optimal tree density and cocoa tree spacing is also mapped out in the farm development plans.

Enhance biodiversity

Biodiversity is a key natural factor to prevent the use of chemicals on cocoa farms. A wide variety of plant and tree species hosts different birds, animals and insects to keep a natural balance on the plantation and to prevent pests and diseases from growing exponentially. That’s why the farm development plans include a recommendation to select at least six different shade tree species out of the 16 available species. On top of that, farmers usually plant many different fruit trees and other useful trees on their own accord.

Comply with certified standards

Overall, the use of chemicals is limited, only occurring when it’s strictly necessary. In these cases, all partner co-ops comply with Fairtrade standards. Additionally, six of our nine partner co-ops are also Rainforest Alliance certified, meaning that also their standards apply. We also work with one organically certified partner co-op where organic standards apply. The certification standards set out a list of banned and allowed substances and outline measures to prevent and reduce the use of chemicals.

Measures outline by the certification standards:

  • The soil of the production area is not left exposed, it is protected by cover crops, crop residues or mulch.
  • Measures are taken to prevent diseases and break disease cycles.
  • Only allowed substances allowed may be used.
  • Extremely toxic chemicals are banned (see the Fairtrade and/or RA banned list of agrochemicals).
  • Measures are taken to respect the Maximum Residue Levels, pre-harvest intervals and to limit human exposure.
  • Agrochemicals are used in a safe, effective and efficient way.
  • Advanced measures for agrochemical management are in place to guarantee safe storage and use, thereby preventing human exposure to the substances.

Provide finance

All efforts to improve quality and productivity on cocoa farms that supply to Tony’s Open Chain are supported by a co-op fee of $50/MT. On top of the co-op fee, Tony’s has invested in setting up co-op extension services, as well as shade tree nurseries at the co-ops in both Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

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