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New standards for sustainable cocoa have been published by the International Standards Organization.

The standards aim to help cocoa farmers professionalise the way they work but have had a mixed reaction from leading producers.

The sustainability of cocoa production is a major concern, but publication of the ISO 34101 series of standards on sustainable and traceable cocoa will, it is claimed, provide a valuable tool that could help  farmers in their journey towards greater prosperity and sustainability.

Developed by stakeholders from all sectors of the cocoa industry, including representatives from countries where the cocoa is grown and markets where it is consumed, the ISO 34101 series aims to encourage the professionalization of cocoa farming, thus contributing to farmer livelihoods and better working conditions. It covers the organizational, economic, social and environmental aspects of cocoa farming as well as featuring strict requirements for traceability, offering greater clarity about the sustainability of the cocoa that is used.

Laudable as the objectives of the ISO standards may be, the world’s leading producers of cocoa, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, rejected aspects of them, because they believe it will increase farmers’ costs. They issued a joint declaration criticising it in March 2019. They said they were not against international standards, but COCOBOD in Ghana and the Conseil du Café-Cacao in Côte d’Ivoire said they were concerned about international bodies imposing standards on farmers in the two countries.

The Director General Le Conseil du Café-Cacao said they were ‘not against ISO 34101 in principle’ but wanted a document that would serve the general interests of farmers, buyers and consumers. They said drafts of the standard on which they had been asked to comment would “only benefit buyers and consumers, and not farmers who produce cocoa beans.”

ISO 34101-1, Sustainable and traceable cocoa – Part 1: Requirements for cocoa sustainability management systems, aims to help users implement effective practices to allow them to continually improve their business. Part 2, which deals with performance requirements, specifies economic, social and environmental criteria, while Part 3 contains the requirements for traceability of sustainably produced cocoa. Part 4 is aimed at certification scheme owners, certification bodies and all those seeking conformity to the ISO 34101 series. It also provides a starting point for farmers new to the concept of sustainable cocoa production, allowing time to progressively fulfil the requirements of Part 1 as experience is gained.

The ISO 34101 series was developed by ISO in collaboration with the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) under its technical committee CEN/TC 415, Sustainable and Traceable Cocoa, whose secretariat is held by DS, ISO’s member for Denmark, along with ISO technical committee ISO/TC 34, Food products, subcommittee SC 18, Cocoa, which is jointly managed by ISO’s members for Ghana (GSA) and the Netherlands (NEN).

Jack Steijn, chair of CEN/TC 415 and ISO/TC 34/SC 18, said the multi-stakeholder development process for the ISO 34101 series was ‘extremely positive’ for the sector and will benefit the lives of cocoa farmers, contribute to greater respect for the environment, and provide confidence to consumers that their chocolate comes from cocoa that has been grown sustainably.

“The series will enable farmers and farmer organizations to benefit from strategically addressing issues that threaten their sustainability by using approaches put forward by experts from all over the world,” he said.

“By introducing the Cocoa Farm Development Plan, a key element of the standard, cocoa farmers will be able to assess whether or not they will benefit from moving to sustainable production. If they choose to meet the requirements of the standards, they will be in a better position to develop into economically viable entrepreneurs.”

MacMillan Prentice, Twinned Committee Manager of ISO/TC 34/SC 18, told C&CI, “A range of positive schemes and initiatives aimed at improving the sustainability of cocoa farming already exist, but this standard aims to set a benchmark to which other programmes may align for the benefit of all.”

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