WASHINGTON — Blommer Chocolate Co. and Olam International Ltd. have formed a 50-50 sustainable cocoa sourcing joint venture the companies are calling the “first of its kind.”

Named GrowCocoa, the venture is aimed at bolstering the cocoa supply chain through activities in “origin sourcing and access to farmer groups, technical chocolate product manufacturing expertise and established retail customer relationships,” the companies said.

The venture will seek to build prosperity in cocoa communities, encourage long-term commitment to and investment in a sustainable supply chain. To help meet its aims, the companies said GrowCocoa would develop strategic partnerships with governments, national institutions, relevant non-governmental organizations and funding partners.

Signed in a ceremony in Washington, the joint venture agreement comes eight years after the companies first worked together in a pilot program in Indonesia. According to the companies, cocoa production there was in decline because of depressed incomes and associated problems, including pests and disease.

“The initial program, SAFOB (Sulawesi Farmers Olam & Blommer), was conceived with the objectives of increasing productivity through sustainable agricultural practices and improving farmer incomes by paying premiums based on quality,” the companies said. “The program is now directly impacting 37,000 farmers in Indonesia alone. A 2010 survey by AMARTA (the U.S. Agency for International Development funded project) showed that average yields had improved from 760 kg per hectare to 1,100 kg per hectare between 2006 and 2010 and that average income had increased by 117%.

“Working hand-in-hand, we strengthen our joint commitment to ensuring the future viability of quality cocoa for generations to come,” said Peter Blommer, president and chief operating officer of Blommer.
“We have been working together for a decade to improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers and to develop a sustainable and traceable supply chain based on good quality,” said Gerry Manley, managing director of cocoa for Olam International. “Responsibly sourced and sustainable cocoa is at the heart of our shared beliefs and we wish to focus our joint resources.”

After the Indonesia project was launched, Blommer and Olam worked beginning in 2005 in the establishment of CIFOB (Côte d’Ivoire Farmers Olam & Blommer). Under the program, 18,000 farmers have been trained in pre- and post-harvest agronomic practices, and have access to fertilizer, credit and new planting material.

“The origin initiatives seek innovative solutions to problems, for example the use of solar driers, which have benefited over 100 cooperatives and contributed to improving quality and working conditions,” the companies said.

GrowCocoa is intended to build on the initial programs and expand the number of growers involved to 100,000 by 2015, up from 55,000 presently. Other producing countries will be involved, the companies said.

The agreement was signed during the partnership meeting of the World Cocoa Foundation.