Not so Sweet: How Nestlé is responding to Climate Change and its impact on West African Cocoa

No chocolate on Valentine’s Day? Along with a multitude of other problems, global warming threatens to put the world’s chocolate supplies in danger, meaning a lot of broken hearts on 2/14 and the possible extinction of self-indulgence of the world’s sweetest treat.

Cocoa is a perennial tree crop of the humid tropics grown frequently under forest shade and a cocoa field has an economic life of some 25-30 years. In West Africa, Cocoa is mostly grown, under extensive management systems by smallholders (often with only 1-2 ha of the crop). It is estimated that there are over 2 million cocoa smallholders in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and that these countries account for 60 percent of the world’s cocoa supply. The impacts of changing weather patterns are already being felt, particularly in Ivory Coast, which just experienced an exceptionally long Harmattan season (the dry and dusty north-easterly trade wind that blows in from the Sahara Desert during the winter). Furthermore, research highlighted in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability report indicates that, under a “business as usual” scenario, these countries will experience a 3.8°F (2.1°C) increase in temperature by 2050, with annual rainfall dropping by as much as 20mm. [1], [2]

To make matters worse, the world’s appetite for chocolate is increasing – emerging markets like China and Brazil have developed a sweet tooth. By 2020, the world’s cocoa demand is predicted to exceed the supply by 1 million tons. Given these statistics and that Nestlé buys 60% of its cocoa from West African farmers, Nestlé is extremely focused on improving farming practices in these regions. The Company is currently working with cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana to help minimize the impact of climate change on cocoa production. Through a variety of strategies including the Nestlé Cocoa Plan, Local Partnerships and various Environmental Sustainability Initiatives, Nestlé is optimistic that it can manage its farming partners’ cocoa production to prevent major disruptions to its supply chain. [3]

Nestlé Cocoa Plan

Through the Nestlé Cocoa Plan, Nestlé has made a lot of progress in helping improve cocoa farming in West Africa. The plan focuses on three main pillars:

  • Enabling farmers to run profitable farms, through farmer training, distribution of higher yielding cocoa plants and rewards for good quality cocoa
  • Improving social conditions by focusing on women, children and their specific needs for education, health and water
  • Sourcing sustainable, good quality cocoa, by ensuring long term supply of good quality cocoa, increasing transparency in the supply chain and respecting the environment [4]

In 2015, through the program, Nestlé distributed 1.6 million higher-yielding cocoa plants to farmers in the Ivory Coast and trained 44,617 farmers. In addition, the Company exceeded its objective of purchasing 100,000 tonnes of cocoa. [5] The Nestlé Cocoa Plan is helping farmers improve and sustain the cocoa industry by discovering ways to maximize yields. Through the plan, Nestlé is training farmers in techniques to adapt to changing weather patterns such as temperature increases and limited rainfall. The training also includes how to better prepare soil and prevent erosion, responsible use of fertilizer, and water conservation.

Local Partnerships

In October 2014, Nestlé announced the renewal of its long-standing collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), committing to contribute CHF 5 million over five years to the organization. In the framework of the partnership, water access and hygiene projects will be extended to cocoa growing communities in Ghana. [6]

Environmental Sustainability Initiatives

Nestlé over the years has committed an extensive amount of resources to tackling climate change, recently earning a place on CDP’s Climate A List. [7] Over the past ten years the Company has halved the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from its factories per kilo of product. [8] Nestlé has also pledged not to have its products associated with deforestation. It is apparent that Nestlé is committed to playing a leading role in the fight of climate change.

Chocolate is a big part of our lives, it expresses our love, satisfies our cravings, and is even good for the heart. In the right proportions, of course! Luckily, Nestlé and other major chocolate manufacturers are implementing the necessary measures to help ensure that one of mankind’s favorite guilty pleasures does not become extinct.

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[1] Federation of Cocoa Commerce. “An Overview of Cocoa Production in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana” [Accessed November 2016].

[2] “Climate-Conscious Cocoa”é-sustainable-cocoa/2016/aug/01/climate-conscious-cocoa [Accessed November 2016].

[3] Nestlé. “Roll out the Nestlé Cocoa Plan with cocoa farmers” http://www.Nestlé [Accessed November 2016].

[4] Nestlé. “Nestlé Ghana commits to a sustainable cocoa supply chain through the Nestlé Cocoa Plan” http://www.Nestlé [Accessed November 2016].

[5] Nestlé. “Nestlé Cocoa Plan?” http://www.Nestlé.com/csv/rural-development-responsible-sourcing/Nestlé-cocoa-plan [Accessed November 2016].

[6] Nestlé. “Nestlé Ghana commits to a sustainable cocoa supply chain through the Nestlé Cocoa Plan” http://www.Nestlé [Accessed November 2016].

[7] CDP fka Carbon Disclosure Project. Out of the Starting Block Report – Tracking progress on corporate climate action “The Climate A List” [Accessed November 2016].

[8] Nestlé. “What is Nestlé doing about climate change?” http://www.Nestlé.com/ask-Nestlé/environment/answers/Nestlé-climate-change [Accessed November 2016].








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4 thoughts on “Not so Sweet: How Nestlé is responding to Climate Change and its impact on West African Cocoa

  1. Tuyee, thanks for sharing about the details of Neste’s plans for sustainable sourcing in West Africa. While I saw their work in action in Ghana, I didn’t realize that it was part of such a strategic plan that I find impressively comprehensive.

    I just finished another post, “Chocapocalypse: Is Chocolate Endangered?” about Mars’ sustainability strategy facing similar challenges to Nestle here. It is interesting to compare the plans of two huge purchasers of West African cocoa. It seems that Neste’s plan is far more detailed and farmer-focused. On one hand, I can see that being as specific publicly as Nestle is here could be a corporate liability if the company is not seriously committed to meeting these goals, but to me it shows a more thoughtful assessment of the problem and a more strategic long-term plan.

  2. Sweet post Tuyee! Looking at Nestlé’s Cocoa Plan I can’t help but wonder: are they doing enough? A temperature increase of 2.1 °C and reduced rainfall seem like serious threats to crop yields. Will the implementation of higher yielding crops and special trainings offset the damage inflicted by warmer and drier weather? Is there a risk that weary farmers depending on cocoa yields to survive will hedge their environmental risk by switching to more heat-resistant crops – like oil palm? If so, prices will surely shoot up. Should we all start building strategic cocoa reserves?

  3. Tuyee,

    Awesome post! I find your post-apocalyptic no chocolate vision to be absolutely terrifying. I’m curious if the cocoa industry has looked into moving production indoors and investing in vertical farms. I have very limited knowledge of how to grow cocoa however I believe it requires a fairly specific climate to be successful. Invest now in sustainable indoor vertical farms would allow companies such as Nestle to take much of the risk out of leaning on chocolate sales moving forward. The major downside to this plan would be the huge upfront cost of producing the facilities when the future of climate change is uncertain. Vertical farms also tend to require far fewer workers which may negatively impact the economy of these emerging markets.

  4. Tuyee- Very profound. Quite interesting, especially around the rise of chocolate in emerging markets. I also very much enjoyed your post on how the future sustainability challenges of chocolate could provide a very big moral quandary for consumers going forward. As people start to think of the environmental impact of what they eat, do you think that consumers will ever turn on chocolate?

    You also seem very focused on chocolate role as a special treat around Valentines Day. I hope the sustainability challenges that chocolate faces forces you to develop a new “go to move” around 2/14.

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