Kiran Grewal sits down with Kate Clancy, Global Sustainability Director for Cargill, to discuss how the company has achieved sustainability milestones while addressing challenges and envisioning a future focused on innovation and collaboration.

Can you share some of the key sustainability initiatives and progress that Cargill’s Cocoa and Chocolate Business has achieved over the past decade, and how have these initiatives contributed to the company’s overall sustainability goals?  

Today, the Cargill Cocoa Promise touches the lives of approximately 220,000 farmers and their communities, spans six cocoa-producing countries and encompasses more than 100 collaborative projects aimed at addressing some of the biggest environmental, social, and economic challenges facing the cocoa sector.  

We’ve trained all Cargill Cocoa Promise farmers on sustainable cocoa production practices, helped families find new ways to increase their household income and worked to keep children off farms and in school. We’ve used innovative GPS polygon mapping technology and satellite data to identify and address deforestation risks and helped farmers adopt agroforestry practices that reforest areas, supplement farmers’ incomes, and sequester carbon dioxide. And we’ve brought financial and physical traceability to our supply chain, leveraging digital solutions like bar coding and mobile banking. As a result of these and other efforts, 100% of cocoa in our direct supply chain is traceable up to the first point of purchase, 72% of the farms in our direct supply chain have been mapped and about half of all cocoa that we source is certified sustainably produced either by third party certifiers (like UTZ or RA) or by the Cargill Promise Verified Scheme. 

Most importantly, over the last decade, we have collaborated with more than 60 partners across the industry, showing that business can be an important force to deliver societal change. Everything we do in cocoa & chocolate ladders up to Cargill’s purpose to nourish the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way. 

As a Global Sustainability Director, you likely work closely with various stakeholders. Could you provide an example of a successful collaboration or partnership that has significantly advanced sustainability practices within the cocoa and chocolate industry?  

One great example is the Cocoa & Forests Initiative, in which the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana joined with Cargill and other leading cocoa and chocolate companies – representing 85% of global cocoa usage – to end deforestation and restore forest areas. Balancing the wellbeing of farmers with the conservation and restoration of forests is one of the most pressing challenges in the cocoa sector. By using innovative technology, here at Cargill we are mapping farms, tracing cocoa, assessing deforestation risk, engaging suppliers and prioritizing actions on the ground. Our actions, in collaboration with the Cocoa & Forest Initiative, play a crucial role in sequestering carbon stocks in West African forests and addressing climate change, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.  

Ensuring sustainable practices across the supply chain is a complex task. Could you discuss some of the challenges you’ve encountered in promoting sustainability within the cocoa supply chain, and how have you and your team overcome these challenges?  

The calls for transformative action to solve the challenges facing the cocoa sector are more pressing than ever. Only by driving improvements at all levels – economic, environmental and social – can we achieve structural change. 

One of the key challenges facing the sector is that too many cocoa farmers still do not earn a living income. That’s why access to tailored farm management coaching, finance (such as micro loans) and market linkages are key elements of the Cargill Cocoa Promise. Price mechanisms such as sustainability cash premiums, in combination with supply management and income diversification, help farmers achieve more consistent revenue, thereby increasing their resilience. More transparency, for example through digital tools and national traceability systems, can help ensure these additive measures benefit farmers.   

Another issue is that women leaders are a promising, yet often forgotten, force of change – especially when addressing critical social challenges such as child protection. At Cargill, we believe that advancing women’s empowerment advances the cocoa sector at large. We’re therefore working to make gender equality the norm throughout the cocoa chain and have signed up to UNWEP to advance those goals.   

Additionally, climate change is serious threat to nature, requiring us to rapidly scale regenerative agriculture-based practices such as agroforestry. Cocoa fares well in the shade and the other trees can functions as a carbon sink that sequesters carbon while also adding to farmers’ incomes through fruit and timber sales. Since 2017, we have provided more than 2,6 million shade trees. 

The cocoa and chocolate industry has been under scrutiny for issues like deforestation and child labour. How does your team address these challenges, and what strategies are in place to mitigate the environmental and social impact of your operations?  

Issues such as child labour, gender inequality, deforestation and farmer poverty are highly interconnected, requiring a systemic approach across the cocoa sector and sector actors. We’ve made significant gains, especially as we’ve learned to look beyond symptoms and build programs that systemically address the root causes of some of the biggest sustainable development challenges facing the cocoa sector and the world.   

For example, Cargill is committed to transforming our supply chains globally to be deforestation-free by 2030, but we recognize that forest protection is a complex challenge that requires a multi-faceted approach. Tools like GPS polygon mapping and satellite imagery help us assess where deforestation-related risks are most significant, but it’s also important to understand why farmers might encroach on forest lands. Based on our work in cocoa-growing communities, we have identified multiple underlying motivations – thus to be successful, we must adopt a holistic approach to forest protection. Reasons for deforestation may include a lack of access to resources and tools to optimize the productivity of existing farmland or a lack of clarity on land rights. Through partnerships, we are working to address these issues, protect forests and help farmers thrive.   

Similarly, our commitment to respecting human rights is fundamental to our purpose. That’s why we work with governments, peers, customers, NGOs, farmers, families and others to make an impact on child labour. Today, more than93,000 farming households have been monitored through Child Labor Monitoring & Remediation Systems (CLMRS), which is an industry-recognized system we co-developed with the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI). It uses networks of local coaches and monitoring agents to raise awareness about the impact of child labour, identify incidents and implement prevention and remediation programs.  

Alongside this initiative, we’re targeting other constraints that hamper a child’s ability to thrive. Actions such as helping families procure birth certificates (which is a prerequisite for access to school), supplying school materials and equipment, supporting access to quality education, and supporting nutrition programs in households and at schools all reduce the risk of hazardous child labour. Because these issues are often interlinked, we’re also providing adults in their household – both women and men – with access to functional and technical trainings to support entrepreneurship, actions that enable additional income generation and thus reduce the likelihood of child labour.    

Looking ahead, what are your vision and goals for the next decade in terms of sustainability for Cargill’s Cocoa and Chocolate Business? How do you plan to continue driving positive change in an evolving industry landscape?  

As we look ahead to the next 10 years, we’ll continue to engage with all partners to advance solutions for emerging and cross-cutting issues like gender equity and living income, knowing our work to address these challenges also has implications for forest protection, climate adaptation, improved household resilience, child protection and more. While the bar should and will continue to rise, we’ll be innovating with purpose – working side-by-side with cocoa farming households and other partners, investing in technology, scaling holistic solutions, expanding partnerships, building resilience and strengthening trust, to build a thriving cocoa sector for generations to come. 

Congratulations on the 10-year anniversary of Cargill’s Cocoa Promise! Could you reflect on the journey of this initiative? What were the initial goals, and how have they evolved over the past decade to address the changing sustainability landscape?  

Thank you! Ten years ago, when we launched the Cargill Cocoa Promise, our overarching aim was to help farmers and their communities achieve better incomes and living standards while growing cocoa sustainably. Our goal was to go beyond certification to acknowledge other sustainability issues impacting farmers, such as improving cocoa farm productivity and working with cocoa-growing communities to enable access to social services.   

The approach was first launched in West Africa in 2012 and was expanded to Brazil the following year, with the first cocoa farmers becoming UTZ (now Rainforest Alliance) Certified. Today, we cover over 222,000 farmers and 660 farmer organisations across Brazil, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ecuador, Ghana and Indonesia. 

Early on, we realized we could not do this work alone, and we sought out partners to help us collaborate with cocoa-farming households and communities to address critical needs. Today we have 60 partnerships to accelerate and magnify our efforts. We’ve made significant gains, especially as we’ve learned to look beyond symptoms and build programs that systemically address the root causes of some of the biggest sustainable development challenges facing the cocoa sector and the world. But, while there are reasons to celebrate, we also know we must continue to do more.  

The Cocoa Promise has impacted the lives of many farmers and communities. Can you share some success stories or examples of how this initiative has made a positive difference on the ground, both in terms of environmental sustainability and social development?  

There are so many stories to share! I’ve seen firsthand how we are empowering women like Marie Adjehi Nanou Bla to start their own business. With Cargill’s help Marie began selling frozen fish and chicken, eggs and gasoline. To do it, she accessed a Cargill and CARE-supported savings and loans program that has helped more than 11,000 women entrepreneurs run businesses that generated additional income for their families. 

Or there’s cocoa cooperative leaders like Soro Kafiehe, who have honed their business management skills through our Coop Academy program. Conducted in partnership with the International Finance Corporation, TechnoServe and others, the Coop Academy illustrates another way we’re collaborating to empower farmer organizations and support rural development across cocoa-growing regions in West Africa. Initiated by Cargill in 2013, this program provides cocoa-cooperative leaders with in-depth training in business management and sustainability competencies. The Coop Academy also supports women entrepreneurs, helping them set up women’s groups, micro-credit services such as VSLAs, and learn skills to develop additional income-generating activities. It is a fundamental pillar to our sustainability efforts as it truly empowers local leaders. 

Another of my favorite initiatives is our work to help farmers like Ouatara Shaka adopt agroforestry practices. Ouatara is one of the more than 220,000 cocoa farmers in our supply chain demonstrating how cocoa farming and forests can co-exist. Together, we’ve planted more than 2.6 million shade trees on farms that, as they grow and develop, have the potential to sequester nearly 137,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2040.   

Over the course of 10 years, technology and approaches to sustainability have advanced. How has the Cocoa Promise embraced innovation to enhance its impact, and what technological advancements have played a pivotal role in achieving the program’s objectives?  

We’ve leveraged technological innovations throughout the past decade to help us bring greater transparency and traceability to our cocoa supply. Advances like GPS polygon mapping, AI-aided satellite monitoring, barcode tracking, digital data collection and more have helped us drive change across the entire cocoa supply chain. Many of these innovations offer huge benefits to our farmers and customers, such as the introduction of mobile banking, which provides a safe and secure way to receive payments. Others, like our new partnership with Satelligence, give us the real-time data we need to protect, regenerate and restore essential landscapes. 

Long-term sustainability initiatives often require adaptation and flexibility. In what ways has the Cocoa Promise adapted to unexpected challenges or new insights in order to remain effective and relevant throughout its 10-year journey?  

Long-term sustainability goals absolutely require flexibility and adaptation. Cargill’s Cocoa Promise has evolved to reflect our deepening understanding about the issues facing cocoa growing regions and how best to support the communities there. As a result, we are investing in models that address interconnected issues and lead to greater prosperity for cocoa farmers and their communities, such as designing and implementing programs that keep cocoa communities’ infrastructure strong, empower women entrepreneurs, broaden access to education and generate more opportunities. 

A specific example of disruption that we can all relate to can be found in the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic emerged, we adopted response plans to quickly deploy robust safety protocols worldwide. In Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, we delivered information on COVID-19 to cocoa farmers through a mobile app and distributed soap, hand towels and hygiene kits to thousands of cocoa farmers. We also launched a US$15 million employee disaster relief fund to help meet the immediate needs of all Cargill’s employees during the pandemic. 

As you celebrate this significant milestone, could you outline any special events or initiatives that are planned to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Cocoa Promise? Additionally, how do you envision the initiative evolving over the next decade to continue fostering positive change?  

We are planning a series of celebrations for the partnerships that have enabled us to get to where we are today. All of the celebration materials are designed with that aspect in mind – that this is as much an anniversary to celebrate for our partners and farmers as it is for us.  

Each origin country is marketing the occasion in their preferred way, starting with Indonesia and followed by West-African countries between now and the end of the calendar year. In Indonesia we will unveil our largest and most innovative Cocoa Development Center in the world. This multi-million-dollar investment is a tangible sign that Cargill believes in Indonesia as the engine for cocoa and chocolate innovation on a global scale. 

As we look to the future, we will keep finding new ways to advance the relationships, models, and platforms we have built with our partners to make a positive impact on a much larger scale. Our focus will continue to be on investing in technology to improve transparency and traceability, scaling up holistic solutions by investing in models that address interconnected issues, strengthening trust, exploring more collaborative initiatives with a wide range of organizations and experts, and partnering with cocoa farmers and cooperatives so that they can build resilient farming businesses, take care of their families and protect natural resources. 

Editorial: Kiran Grewal