The US State Department is working to accelerate practices and thinking around the impact economy—an economy in which government works with civil society and the private sector to create positive social and environmental impact while generating economic value. The following article is part of a series written by participants in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Global Impact Economy Forum in Washington, DC, April 26-27.


The demand for cocoa to make chocolate and related products is projected to exceed supply. If current trends continue, we anticipate that the world will need at least 1 million additional metric tons by 2020—more than Ghana, which is the second largest supplier of cocoa in the world and nearly as much as the current total annual production of the Ivory Coast, the world’s largest cocoa producer. Despite this increasing desire for cocoa, farmers in the West African and Southeast Asian countries that produce more than 85 percent of the world’s supply are often not able to invest in their farms to benefit. In the last 10 years, yields for many farmers have stagnated or decreased and income has remained flat, which has affected the long-term competitiveness of the industry and challenges the willingness of farmers and their families to continue growing cocoa. 

Mars guides its business strategy according to five principles, one of which is mutuality, the belief that all actors in the supply chain should share in the benefits. With many cocoa farmers living on less than $2 a day, we launched our Sustainable Cocoa Initiative to enhance and promote mutuality for the farmers we depend on for our chocolate business. We believe that our business should benefit farmers today and tomorrow, which is why our guiding principle is Farmers First. For the cocoa industry to be truly sustainable, the world’s 5 to 6 million smallholder farmers must be put first so that they can have the opportunity to professionalize their farms, increase their incomes, diversify their crops, and support their families.

Increasing growers’ productivity dramatically is the most effective way to raise farmer income, and increasing farmer income is the most important way to empower farmers and their communities to create lasting change. Although we invest tens of millions of dollars every year conducting breakthrough cocoa research—aiming to certify 100 percent of our cocoa supply by 2020 and to reach 150,000 farmers in the Ivory Coast’s most productive cocoa growing region by 2020—we know that we cannot be successful unless we collaborate effectively with governments, civil society, and our industry peers.

We greatly value work that has been done in collaboration with the US Department of Agriculture to sequence the cocoa genome, the US Agency for International Development to promote sustainable cocoa production in Asia and Africa, the offices of Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Eliot Engel to establish the Harkin-Engel Protocol, the International Cocoa Initiative to address the Worst Forms of Child Labor in Cocoa Sector, and the US Department of Labor and US State Department—especially embassy staff—who advocate for positive developments in the cocoa sectors of producing countries. Governments in cocoa consuming countries like the United States have an important role to play in advocating sector collaboration, especially in sustainability, and we welcome their assistance in the industry’s efforts to establish a greater level of pre-competitive collaboration in the coming years.

To be successful, the entire sector—from cocoa exporters and chocolate manufacturers to governments and NGOs—must focus its collective energy on reaching a much larger number of farmers with the tools and ongoing support. It is this kind of collaboration that will allow cocoa farmers to dramatically boost their productivity and income to support their families and communities beyond subsistence levels.

While we know that providing farmers with improved planting material, fertilizer, and training in integrated pest management and good agricultural practices can triple cocoa crop yields in three to five years, the true challenge for the cocoa industry is collaborating effectively to scale our impact beyond hundreds or thousands of farmers to hundreds of thousands or millions of farmers. As an industry, we know that we have a challenge to ensure that cocoa—and the chocolate that so many love—is available for generations to come. But we also have a responsibility to the growers who are essential to the future of cocoa. Committing to them and their families means investing in a sustainable industry where both origin and consuming nations benefit.