Interview: “Over 25,000 Farmers Have Been Certified”

Michael Ndoping, General Manager, National Cocoa and Coffee Board, talks on the certification of cocoa ibn Cameroon.

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Farmers are increasingly becoming familiar with words like certification, standards and sustainability. In simple terms, what do they mean?

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Certification as defined by the Tropical Commodity Coalition is the procedure whereby an independent third party certification body gives a written assurance that the quality of the cocoa and the production processes have been assessed and found to conform with requirements specified by the standards system. There are three “big” certification bodies in the cocoa and coffee value chain - the Rain Forest Alliance, the UTZ Certified and the Fair Trade.

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There are others like the 4C in coffee, EU organic, Biocert, etc. All these bodies have as main objective arriving at a sustainable cocoa/coffee or other agricultural value chain. Certification should however not be confused with standards or sustainability. These are different concepts with different KPIs and specific objectives. The bottom line is attaining value chains profitable for present and future generations.

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At what level is Cameroon with certification?

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In the past seven years, government, alongside the cocoa/coffee private sector, has been working on a steady certification plan. So far, over 25,000 farmers have been certified and 10,000 metric tonnes of certified cocoa exported.

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Why is the process taking long?

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Cocoa certification is a meticulous process. At the same time, it constitutes a niche. You do not engage in the process if there is no guaranteed buyer. It is true that the chocolate industry targeted 2020 as the deadline for procuring cocoa beans. This deadline has been extended to 2025. It is important to us because more than 90 per cent of our cocoa is shipped to Europe. With eight years to go, coupled with the existing structures and commitments on the ground, we are confident we will meet the deadline.

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Can we say all is going well as far as certification is concerned?

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We have some challenges because certification is costly. Our cocoa sector alone has almost 400,000 producers, with a majority operating on smallholdings. Very few of them can afford the cost of certification. Government, through NCCB, has built solid partnerships with interested international bodies to mitigate cost through group certification, but much still needs to be done.

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Again, there is a mix-up about certification and sustainability. Is it the farm, buyer, exporter or the cocoa product? What people fail to realize is that there can be a sustainable farm that is not certified, as there can be a certified farm that is not sustainable. There is also market niche. Certification does not guarantee ready demand. Our current policies and plans are structured to produce more quality cocoa, with emphasis on sustainability.

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