A consumer’s perspective on the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program
When I first sent a message to customer service asking about the possibilities of visiting a Lindt cocoa farm back in February, it struck me as very unlikely that my wish would actually be granted. But to my surprise I soon received a response in the affirmative and two months later my friends and I were sitting in the office of Ecom – the local cocoa buying company for Lindt & Sprüngli – in Kumasi and planning our schedule for a two day trip to the farming community in Manfo near Tepa.
Our goal was to learn as much as possible not only about the art of cocoa production, but also about the general situation of the cocoa farmers and the projects (“interventions”) set up by Lindt & Sprüngli to help them with their work. Five of us (including me) were eight months into our weltwärts-volunteer service with the German NGO Nima e. V., which is supporting projects for children in and around Accra. The other members of the group were our weltwärts mentor and a Ghanaian worker for the NGO. None of us knew much about cocoa farming before the trip, but we had read all the documents about the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program that could be found online.
This is my account of what we experienced in Manfo.
Cocoa Farming Activities
Although we were visiting in the lean season, when only few cocoa is produced mostly for local companies, we were still able to witness and execute ourselves the various steps of the cocoa processing. We harvested the pods with sharp long instruments called “go-to-hells”, collected them, split them open with cutlasses and removed the beans into a basket. Later they are covered with leaves and left in the sun for days in order to facilitate the fermentation. After that the fermented beans are brought to the drying market in the village, where they are cleaned by hand and once again left to dry in the sun for six days, this time uncovered. The finished dry beans are weighed and filled into standardized bags provided by the government. Stamps on the bag and additional tags with barcode ensure that each bag can be traced back to its origin. In a warehouse the cocoa bags are stored and checked for quality, before they are transported to one of the harbors and shipped in containers to buyers all around the world – in the case of Lindt probably to some place in Europe.
Interventions of Lindt & Sprüngli
Following the path of cocoa beans from their trees to the harbor was an interesting experience, but it was not the only reason why we were here. On behalf of Lindt, SMS – the sustainability branch of Ecom – has created countless interventions to support farmers both in their professional and private life. Here I want to present to you the projects we were able to visit in our limited time.
- The Farmer Business School: An intervention designed to further educate interested farmers in the ways of calculating their cost and income balance as well as teaching them how to find out themselves the risks and advantages of fertilizers and credit offers.
- The Village Resource Center: A room with computers provided by the Program, in which farmers can watch instructional videos about good farming practices, all in local languages with English subtitles. It is located in a primary school and also used by its pupils in the ICT lessons, in which they learn how to use Microsoft Office and other essential computer skills.
- The Nursery Site: Here cocoa seedlings are grown by experts under controlled conditions until they are ready to be planted. Once ready, they are given away for free to farmers who have proven their good management.
- The Demonstration Plot: On a small piece of land provided by a local farmer different combinations of fertilizers and farming practices are applied to portions of the land. Other farmers are invited to see the different results with their own eyes so they can pick the best method for their own land and soil.
- The Farm Shop: Fertilizers, insecticides and protective equipment of solid quality will be sold here by farmers to farmers. When we came the most requested products were not yet in store, but we were informed the project is still in development.
- The Borehole: In one village we saw a borehole which was built within the Program. In this particular location, another borehole was provided already by the government, but the people were still visibly glad about the source of fresh clean water. The water was drinkable and neutral in taste.
- The Plantain Suckers: For additional livelihood and to provide shade for small cocoa plants, farmers are encouraged to also plant plantains on their farm, a fruit similar to banana which is popular in Ghana. The plantain seedlings are planted by experts using a special method of cutting to make sure that as many plants as possible survive. This method is also taught to farmers for free so they can apply it on their own.
- The Rehabilitation Program: This is an intervention where experts offer to rehabilitate failed or unused cocoa farms for their owner.
- The Farmer Meeting: The monthly meeting of small groups of farmers with representatives of Ecom is not an intervention itself, but it was very important to us. We were able to question farmers themselves about their opinion of Ecom/Lindt & Sprüngli and their interventions. Naturally they had some suggestions for improvements, which were noted by the Ecom representative. However, all in all they were satisfied and grateful for the interventions of Lindt & Sprüngli on their behalf.
The main reason for undertaking this trip for me was to find out if I could continue to consume Lindt chocolate with a good conscience. Even back home one hears a lot about the poor working conditions and child labor in the cocoa industry, and when living in Ghana these tragedies get even more conceivable. On paper the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program looks great, but before the trip I was not sure if I could trust the glossy images and documents provided online – even more so because there is no conventional certifying organization involved such as UTZ or Fairtrade.
Personally, from what I have seen and heard from the many passionate Ecom workers and the farmers themselves, I can now say with as much certainty as a non-expert for cocoa farming can possibly say:
- Lindt chocolate can be eaten with a good conscience.
- The cocoa used in their chocolate is sourced ethically and sustainably.
- Their workers try their best to offer cocoa farmers in Ghana the support they need.