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Rejuvenating Cocoa: Sustainably

Olam is partnering with Mondelēz International’s Cocoa Life programme to help farming communities in Indonesia produce verified sustainable cocoa, which benefits the environments and improves profitability and therefore livelihoods.  


Indonesia is the third largest producer of cocoa in the world after Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, producing about 450,000 MT of cocoa beans in 2012-13. Cocoa is the main source of income for over 1 million smallholder farmers and their families. On the island of Sumatra, over 300,000 smallholder farmers, working on plots ranging from 0.5 ha to 2.0 ha, grow about 33% of the cocoa produced in Indonesia. Lampung in West Sumatra and Aceh are the main cocoa growing provinces in Sumatra, but these areas have been affected by crop diseases, poor soil nutrition, and aging trees, leading to a decline in local cocoa production over the past decade and diminishing farmers’ income and quality of life.


The major challenge was not only to improve the quantity and quality of cocoa in Indonesia but also to make cocoa more attractive for current farmers and the next generation, helping to prevent a shift towards palm production by farmers in cocoa-growing areas. The objective was therefore to help boost farmers’ livelihoods by securing a regular source of income through cocoa farming.


Olam has long-standing relationships with Indonesian cocoa farmers, because we have been sourcing crops directly from the ‘farmgate’ (rather than at ports) since 1996 and because of our on-the-ground presence throughout the year (i.e. our teams don’t just appear when it’s time to buy). Therefore, the team was well placed to collaborate with Mondelēz’s Cocoa Life to implement their already successful programme with cocoa farmers in the Lampung and West Sumatra region of Indonesia.

Cocoa Life aims to create thriving and empowered cocoa farming communities and is based on three principles: being farmer centred; empowered by partnership and aligned with company sourcing. The programme currently operates in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, India, the Dominican Republic, Brazil and, more recently, Indonesia. It was important to Olam that the initiative should not only be aligned with Cocoa Life’s focus on farming, community, livelihoods, youth and environment and their three principles, but also the eight principles of the Olam Livelihood Charter – Olam’s framework for supporting smallholders in their global networks.

Cocoa Life and Olam’s Indonesian programme started in January 2014, and includes agricultural training such as how to graft fresh branches onto ageing cocoa trees, the most efficient and environmentally friendly methods of applying fertiliser and the techniques of integrated pest management. Ecosystem, wildlife and water conservation as well as waste management are all a key part of this training in order to protect the landscape and farming land for future generations.

The programme has also established demonstration plots within communities to put the training into practice, and has helped establish nurseries to grow and distribute hybrid cocoa varieties that are higher-yielding and more disease resistant, as well as offering interest-free micro-finance to help smallholders invest in their farms.

Olam offer premiums to farmers for higher quality beans, and the programme has provided solar dryers and training in fermentation techniques which help farmers to secure better incomes from their cocoa. Farmers and female community members also benefit from training in business skills and diversification to develop extra sources of income. In addition, Cocoa Life monitors school attendance and provides training to young people in the community to encourage education.

Cocoa Life also organises community meetings where farming families can discuss their needs and create their own Community Action Plans to achieve specific development outcomes, such as improving health, nutrition and education for the community. Cocoa Life is 3rd party verified in addition to internal monitoring and annual evaluation.

“Cocoa Life is taking root in Indonesia because it’s focused on farmers,” said Andi Sitti Asmayanti, Director of Cocoa Life for Southeast Asia. “Through Cocoa Life, we’re empowering farmers to create action plans with their communities and shape the future of cocoa. Together with the Indonesian government, our suppliers and partners, we’re helping cocoa-farming families create the kind of communities they want to live in, and inspiring the next generation.”


“Olam and Save the Children work hand in hand to deliver our holistic Cocoa Life program. Save the Children implements a community development program to facilitate entrepreneurship for women and to provide training to help youth evaluate the opportunities in cocoa farming. This will integrate with the work Olam is doing to improve agricultural practices in the cocoa farming areas in Sumatra.”


Because of these efforts, crops are healthier: Before, about 60-70% of crops were lost due to Black Pod and VSD, now after the training and farmers’ adoption the rate has fallen to 10-20%. As part of Good Agriculture Practice post-harvest solar dryers were introduced to improve the quality of cocoa during the rainy season, which has enabled farmers like 48-year-old Eko in Lampung to improve his cocoa and sell it at a better price. In Sukoharjo, one year after adopting the new farming practices, a 22-year-old farmer named Fredyana is among several farmers who are on track to more than double their income.

At Sukoharjo village in Pringsewu, Lampung, a farmer named Romlan helps farmers in his community to understand how side grafting can lead to increased income. Talking about a field school (Rehabilitation and rejuvenation techniques) he attended, where he learnt side grafting, he said “The training programme results were encouraging as my garden now produces much more cocoa than before, reaching 800 kg per ha. Currently, almost all the members of our farmer group perform side grafting regularly.”

There is still a long way to go, but this is the inspiration that is driving Olam and Cocoa Life to continue their partnership and extend this programme in Indonesia – making cocoa farming prosperous for everyone involved and enabling truly sustainable sourcing.

About Cocoa Life

Cocoa Life aims to reach more than 200,000 farmers across six countries, benefiting more than a million people. Mondelēz International’s ultimate goal is to sustainably source all the company’s cocoa supply, mainly via Cocoa Life.

By working in partnership with farmers, NGOs, suppliers and government institutions, our aim is to create empowered cocoa farmers, in thriving communities at scale across our cocoa supply. Cocoa Life answers Mondelēz International’s Call For Well-being, which urges employees, suppliers and community partners to join together to develop new approaches that can have a positive impact on the planet and its people.

Please click here to view our cocoa sustainability page.