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Helping smallholder cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire secure land rights

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In Côte d'Ivoire, we’re in a partnership that supports cocoa smallholders to gain security of tenure on their land. This is helping to improve their livelihoods, protect the environment and ensure a sustainable source of cocoa for our business.

Côte d’Ivoire smallholder cocoa farmer breaking up harvested cocoa pods to extract the beans.

In Côte d'Ivoire, we’re helping smallholder cocoa farmers formalise the rights to their land through an affordable land tenure documentation process. The West African country is where we source much of this key ingredient for our ice creams.

Having legal ownership of their land or long-term rights as tenants benefits the farmers by helping to improve their livelihoods and give them more security of the land they depend on. It benefits the environment as farmers have an incentive to invest in the land by adopting sustainable agriculture practices. And it benefits our business because we have a more sustainable source of high-quality cocoa.

This work is being carried out by the Côte d’Ivoire Land Partnership (CLAP), which brings together Unilever and other brands and industry bodies, the Ivorian and German governments, and Meridia – a social venture that manages the implementation of the programme on the ground.

Through a pilot that’s running in two villages in the south of the country, CLAP members subsidise the cost of the documentation and provide technical support to help the farmers navigate the certification process.

Earlier this year, the first group of farmers – more than 40% of whom are women – received 130 land tenure documents. CLAP’s early scale project, which runs until next year, aims to cover 30 villages and deliver over 9,000 documents. It will also create a blueprint for a larger-scale project.

Group of eight smallholder cocoa farmers holding up their land tenure documents at a presentation ceremony.

Why is CLAP so important?

With poor land management, soil degrades over time. This means that the farmer’s productivity and therefore their income decreases. It also means they are more likely to expand into forested areas to try and make up the shortfall.

With security of tenure, they have more choice of what, when and how to grow. Importantly, they also have an incentive to invest in the land and plan for the future, adopting long-term, sustainable practices. This increases the yield they get from the land, which in turn helps prevent deforestation.

As land tenure impacts cocoa farmers from a social, economic and environmental perspective, it’s a complex challenge that requires collaboration between many stakeholders including government, local NGOs, international development agencies and the private sector.

Cocoa farming is central to the Côte d'Ivoire economy. According to the World Bank, it accounts for 10–15% of GDP, nearly 40% of export earnings and provides a living for 5 to 6 million people, or one-fifth of the population. So it’s essential that the sector is sustainable for the long term.

“At Unilever, we believe that when smallholder farmers thrive, so will the environment – and our business. That’s why we’re encouraged by the progress that’s being made through CLAP in helping smallholder cocoa farmers in Côte d'Ivoire secure legal land rights,” says Megan Willis, Unilever’s Head of Sustainable Sourcing, Naturals. “When smallholders have legal or recognised rights to their land, they are in a stronger position to improve the lives of their families and communities, secure land legality for future generations, and protect the forests and environment.

This programme is a great example of how Unilever collaborates with industry, civil society, communities and governments to drive impactful and systemic change for people and planet.

Megan Willis, Unilever’s Head of Sustainable Sourcing, Naturals

The CLAP partnership

The Côte d’Ivoire Land Partnership (CLAP) was founded by The Hershey Company, Barry Callebaut Group, The Cocoa Horizons Foundation, Unilever, the German Cooperation (implemented by GIZ GmbH) and the German Cocoa and Chocolate Foundation. All those involved are keen to work on the multiple issues related to insecure land tenure faced by Ivorian cocoa farmers. CLAP is endorsed by the Côte d’Ivoire government’s Rural Land Agency (AFOR) and managed on the ground by Meridia.


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