Pittsburgh— Edward Marc Brands, Inc. is taking a proactive and innovative approach to tackling cocoa sustainability. During the next 15 years the Pennsylvania-based candymaker plans to develop 700 farms cultivating over one million acres of land in West Africa, according to COO Mark Edwards.
“As we learned more about our cocoa supply chain, we realized there is an opportunity for us to be a part of the solution,” Edwards tells Candy & Snack TODAY.
Edwards began formulating the plan for Edward Marc Farms after attending the World Cocoa Foundation’s (WCF) annual meeting this past fall in Washington, DC. “We will need to invest approximately $2 billion during the next 15 years to achieve sustainability reaching more than 250,000 farmers and their families,” he says.
Edwards explains WCF event attendance is split between non-government organizations (NGOs) and business leaders, with many divergent opinions on the sustainable solution to the mutual systemic problem in the cocoa supply chain.
“Witnessing the lack of unity between companies and NGOs, and even between the different cocoa companies all wanting the same result, it appeared that someone needed to step in and say, “It’s time to invest in a lasting solution.” he says. “The inefficiency in cocoa farming is driving up costs, decreasing farmer income, causing deforestation, and creating the necessity of child labor.”
As a result, Edwards enlisted the help of the world’s foremost experts in farming cocoa and diversified crops to develop a sustainable model that will create close to 100 percent efficiency in land utilization, generating profits to increase farmer income.
“We plan to lease the land from the villagers in order to increase the asset value of the people operating our farms,” he tells Candy & Snack TODAY.
Increasing income and asset value to local communities is integral to sustainability. Alleviating poverty is at the heart of cocoa sustainability with the average villager living on 91 cents per day, Edwards relays, citing a study by Barry Callebaut AG and the French Development Agency.
“Our goal is raise earnings to $12 per day per farmer. We feel that $6 is achievable in year one, but $12 is the goal.” he says.
Edwards recounts a story about a farmer featured at the WCF meeting that wanted to expand his farm, so he decided to buy a machete that costs $40.
“He couldn’t get approved for the financing. The majority of West African farmers do not have the luxury of thinking about long term sustainability,” he explains. “They are doing their best to feed their families with the current farming structure.”
The timeline for the Edward Marc farming initiative, Edwards tells Candy & Snack TODAY, is to develop the first two 1,500-acre farms in 2019.
“In 2021, we plan to add 18 farms and then scale up from there,” he explains. “In our most aggressive year, we will add 70 farms, culminating with 700 total.”
A Model For Efficiency, Profitability
The company’s current farm prototype dedicates half the land to cocoa with the remainder reserved for growing diversified crops including corn, rice, and sorghum. Edwards notes that the company is including crops that can be processed into regionally accepted food products in its focused efforts to curb malnutrition. Edward Marc will also reserve 30 acres of each farm to grow food for the farmers and their families.
“We will irrigate all fields, which increases the efficiency on each acre and the amount of land that can be cultivated without moving into protected forests,” he says. Further, the company will build mills near the farms so that wheat, sorghum and other crops can be processed into flour to feed local communities.
In addition to increasing the efficiency of farms, Edwards will work with local communities to respect their traditions and provide villages with access to clean water, schools, and medical care.
“We want them to maintain their culture while growing cocoa and other crops in a profitable way. Increasing the human living condition is our primary focus,” he says.
While the candymaker is starting with cocoa supply chain sustainability, Edwards foresees the program’s impact spreading much further than the chocolate industry.
“This model can be duplicated in other regions, and by open sourcing the information we hope that other companies can learn from our work. We believe that one day many countries in Africa can be global leaders in food production.” Edwards notes that about half the world’s uncultivated land is in sub-Saharan Africa, which is primed for agricultural investment.
“Looking back, I want to be able to say that we left the world a better place than we found it,” Edwards tells Candy & Snack TODAY.