Connecting the dots: Progress measurement in the cocoa sector

Written by: William Saab (Senior Consultant), supported by Eva Schouten (Analyst).  Also posted on LinkedIn.

Reflecting on the 4th World Cocoa Conference in Berlin

The global cocoa sector agrees that there is a need for a more sustainable sector and that the sector faces critical and complex issues that we need to tackle collectively. This is the reason that 1,500 stakeholders, ranging from producers and producer organizations, civil society, private and public sectors of both origin and consuming countries, came together at the 4th World Cocoa Conference (WCC) in Berlin from 22-25 April. At this conference, I was asked to share recommendations in a plenary session on how the cocoa sector can start measuring progress towards becoming a more sustainable sector.

At the conference, I was inspired by honest and high-energy conversations. Various critical challenges of the sector were raised by different stakeholders, all with an interesting point of view. These topics included:

  • Living income
  • Diversification
  • Price volatility
  • Child labor
  • Productivity
  • Climate change
  • Policy and coordination

And of course many others.

Haven’t we heard all of this before?

Now let’s be honest, these topics are not new. The Cocoa Barometer, published by a global consortium of civil society organizations called The Voice Network, has outlined most of these challenges in each of the past three editions, including the recently published 2018 edition. Over the last few years, at conferences and in declarations, we have repeatedly talked about these topics. Below you see that for many of these issues, we have even been talking about them for more than 10 years:

Do you feel like playing cocoa bingo?

Of course new topics also arise, but in the cocoa sector we have been talking about many of the same issues for quite some time. Perhaps at the next World Cocoa Conference, we can hand out a bingo card to all participants and checkmark each of the familiar topics being raised.

Systemic challenges require systemic solutions

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to be negative. There is a reason why these challenges keep getting raised. These challenges are systemic in nature and therefore among the most complex challenges to solve, as they cannot be solved in isolation, and cannot be solved by one stakeholder alone. Take price for example: just increasing the farm gate price will almost certainly increase the amount of cocoa farmers and/or the hectares under cultivation, thereby increasing production, which would likely lower the price once again. Likewise, increasing yields might work for a small number of producers, but to be achieved at scale, it must be complemented with the creation of alternatives inside and outside of farming, as otherwise it will only lead to overproduction and price collapses.

Systemic issues are among the most complex to solve: they require a high level of coordination and a long term approach. As a senior consultant at NewForesight, I work on these kinds of challenges every day, across many different sectors. In our experience, to resolve these systemic challenges, broadly the same steps are needed, listed below as questions to be addressed:

Here comes the good news

What if I told you that we are already halfway there? Have you heard of the Global Cocoa Agenda? This document, essentially a roadmap towards a sustainable cocoa sector, was already agreed upon in 2012 by various stakeholders, including producers and producer organizations, governments, private sector and civil society. Its signatories include producer organizations, governments, traders, processors, brands, civil society, and industry associations and platforms. It already contains the first 4 of the 6 elements listed above. It outlines a vision for the sector (1) and identifies barriers (2) across four tracks – sustainable production, consumption, value chain and strategic management – which, not coincidentally, were also the four tracks used in the 2018 Berlin Declaration. The Global Cocoa Agenda goes further, and lists commitments and actions to tackle these challenges (3). It even allocates actions and commitments to different stakeholders, encompassing producing governments, consuming governments, private sectors, producers, civil society, and international organizations (4).

I’ve worked on systemic challenges in a lot of sectors, and I can tell you, this is pretty special. There aren’t many sectors out there where such a broad set of stakeholders has agreed on a common agenda as we have done within the cocoa sector.

Let’s start to connect the dots

In case you think I’m being too positive, let me state the obvious: it has been 6 years since the Global Cocoa Agenda was agreed upon and we continue to talk about the same issues without measuring or reporting progress at a sector level. This is not good for the credibility either of the Global Cocoa Agenda or of the cocoa sector’s commitments to sustainability.

While we are very focused on getting different stakeholders involved to set the agenda for a sustainable cocoa sector, the measurement of the progress and continuous learning – steps 5 and 6 above – are lacking. Already in 2009 at the second meeting of the Roundtable for a Sustainable Cocoa Economy in Trinidad and Tobago, the official declaration emphasized the importance “to develop a system of monitoring of activities aimed at achieving sustainability in the cocoa sector”. This has not happened yet.

The ICCO Consultative Board (mandated with monitoring and coordination of the Global Cocoa Agenda) and the ICCO Secretariat (the central coordination body to monitor effective implementation of the Global Cocoa Agenda) asked NewForesight to develop a Monitoring Framework for the Global Cocoa Agenda. To do this, we worked closely with a working group that includes different members of the ICCO Consultative Board: BDSIGISCO, the International Cocoa InitiativeUTZ, the VOICE Network, and the World Cocoa Foundation.

You may be thinking: do we really need another measuring framework? Do we really need more frameworks, more reporting, more indicators? While I agree that we don’t need yet another framework for the sake of having a framework, we do need accountability, transparency, and most importantly credibility when it comes to living up to our commitments towards a sustainable cocoa sector.

We have tried to avoid the risk of yet another framework that will not be implemented, by keeping this one simple, light, credible, insightful, and feasible.

In short, the monitoring framework we have created is designed to answer 2 questions:

  1. What is the state of the cocoa sector? Measured through impact indicators
  2. Are the various stakeholders living up to their commitments? Measured through action and commitment indicators

Impact indicators*

To measure the state of the cocoa sector, we have identified 12 indicators divided between the 4 tracks of the Global Cocoa Agenda. These indicators all come from existing sources, such as ICCO’s own statistical unit and the Cocoa Barometer.

Commitment indicators*

When looking at the commitments of the different stakeholders, most of the information comes from self-reporting on around 10 indicators per type of stakeholder, and based as much as possible on information that these stakeholders already measure.

Much exciting work is underway as I write this, for instance on deforestation (e.g., Cocoa and Forests Initiative) and living income (e.g., Living Income Community of Practice), and we have designed the GCA Monitoring Framework to be flexible and be able to incorporate new indicators as they are developed.

Cocoa Bingo and the Future

I am happy that the response to my presentation at the World Cocoa Conference was overwhelmingly positive and that the importance of monitoring and KPI measurement is mentioned directly in the 2018 Berlin Declaration. I hope that very soon the GCA Monitoring Framework will be formally approved and implemented, and that in the coming years it will continue to be adapted and used to remain relevant and impactful.

Of course we will continue to talk about the same issues for a while, as these issues will not be solved within the next couple of years. However, I hope that my presentation in Berlin (and this supporting article) will contribute to us looking more critically at the process we are making into solving them. I hope that from now on when challenges like child labor, deforestation and living income enter the conversation, the feeling of playing ‘cocoa bingo’ reminds us all to become evidence-based in solving them. And I hope that when the framework is properly implemented, it will lead not only to honest evaluations and what is working and what isn’t, but also transparency and accountability related to actions and commitments of the various stakeholders that will all need to contribute if we are to achieve a sustainable cocoa sector.

I sincerely hope that at the next World Cocoa Conference we can show real collective progress and results. In this way we can integrate the shared learnings and identified gaps and outcomes into the agenda and incorporate that in following declarations. This will open up an honest discussion about what worked and what did not work, which commitments have been met and which haven’t. And it will provide a much-needed boost of credibility to the various commitments and strategies in the cocoa sector.

If you are interested in making this happen, I urge you to make your voice heard, via the ICCO Consultative Board.

This is an outline of a presentation I gave at the World Cocoa Conference in Berlin on the 25th of April 2018. Want to continue the conversation? Let us know your thoughts either via the comments below or contact me via email, atwilliam.saab@newforesight.com

The Global Cocoa Agenda Monitoring Framework is under a final review by the ICCO Consultative Board and some indicators may still be changed, removed or added