Mars Chocolate is making history by putting the farmers first. #dayofDOVE

Recently I was able to tour the Dove Chocolate Center of Excellence in Elizabethtown, Pa and while I was there I learned all about the amazing things that Dove is doing with cocoa sustainability.  I was able to listen to Ed Seguine, a Mars chocolate expert, discuss all the amazing efforts about cocoa sustainability and certifications efforts.

In 2011 Mars announced that Dove Brand Chocolate would be the first chocolate brand in the United States to bear the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal on its dark chocolate products, which are manufactured in Elizabethtown, Pa.  Beginning in fall 2011, DOVE Brand Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate began sourcing 100% of its cocoa volume from the Rainforest Alliance Certified Farms, and the packaging bears the organization’s little green frog seal.

© 2012 Mars, Incorporated and its Affiliates.
All Rights Reserved.
Mars believes that the farmers come first and with the demand for cocoa continuing to rise with each passing day but the farm yields are declining because farmers do not want to grow cocoa trees because there is no profit to grow the trees and there are so many issues that they have to deal with.

Demand for cocoa is rising and unless something is done supply will soon not keep pace. There are a number of reasons for this. Cocoa is a labor-intensive crop grown mostly in developing countries. Farmers struggle with aging trees, pests and disease, depleted soils and poor access to training and other resources.

As a result, farmers produce small amounts of cocoa and often don't earn incomes above subsistence levels. This makes it difficult for individual farmers to invest in their farms, families and communities in ways that could help raise them out of poverty. The consequence is a decline in production year on year - a situation that benefits no one.

© 2012 Mars, Incorporated and its Affiliates.
All Rights Reserved.
Farmers struggle with aging cocoa trees that produce less cocoa over time and more prevalent pests and diseases that can destroy much of their harvest. Many farmers also lack basic agricultural skills and do not have the resources to invest in improving their farm operations and infrastructure. On top of this, many farmers don't have access to agricultural tools and products that will enable them to flourish, including good quality plants and fertilizers. These difficulties result in low productivity and incomes, which mean that farmers often lack education, information and financing to improve their skills and output.

Mr. Seguine told us that Mars had set up hubs sort of like Montessori learning for the cocoa farmers and it was very interesting! 

The most effective way to raise productivity on farms is to show best practice in action and to give farmers the skills and tools they need to apply it on their own farms. That's why they're setting up hubs in cocoa-producing regions that work on the principle that "seeing is believing."

Cocoa Development Centers
Cocoa Development Centers (CDCs) are models for sustainable cocoa farming. Staffed by expert agronomists with strong organizational, technical and communication skills, they work on three principles:

Showcasing the best methods for improved and sustainable cocoa production to demonstrate how an "average" farm can be transformed into a high-yielding farm.

Applied research
Conducting trials in the field. This is particularly important for learning about the effect of local conditions on new farming practices.

Capacity building
Training individuals in government agencies, local organizations and companies who can train farmers in good agricultural practices.

CDC locations are chosen with care to be highly visible sites in the heart of cocoa-producing communities. For maximum effect, roadside locations are planted with cocoa trees that demonstrate the benefits of good farming practices. Poorly maintained trees are grown next to well-maintained trees so farmers can see the difference for themselves.

I firmly believe in this way of learning because we have two children going to Montessori Schools and it’s an amazing experience so finding out that’s how Mars is approaching the farmers is very cool to me.  Using a hands on approach is very beneficial to the farmers. 

Mars has pledged to certify 100% of its cocoa as sustainably produced by 2020. They were the first global chocolate company to make this promise, and in the near future they will be the world's largest buyer of certified cocoa.

While at the Dove Chocolate Center of Excellence I learned about the cocoa genome which is AMAZING to help in the aid of helping the farmers produce healthy and plentiful cocoa trees. 

Thanks to this amazing find what took many years can now take several months to know if you’ve produced the right breeding of trees to produce a good crop. 

Sequencing the cocoa genome
As part of their commitment to furthering their industry's understanding of genetics, they are working on sequencing and annotating the cocoa genome in a partnership that includes IBM and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 2010, the consortium unveiled the initial results of its program. The gene has not been patented and the results were released into the public domain, where they are permanently accessible via the Cocoa Genome Database. By making the results available to the industry and scientific community, the project partners are helping accelerate future cocoa research and the application of knowledge on the ground.

Making crop cultivation less precarious
Genome sequencing helps take the guess-work out of traditional crop cultivation and will allow breeders to produce better plants in months not years. It advances farmers' ability to plant more robust, higher-yielding and disease-resistant trees and demonstrates the role business can play in addressing global issues.

The sequencing of the cocoa genome is the result of a public/private partnership. In addition to the three major partners, six other organizations collaborated on the project. Mars was the primary funder, investing millions of dollars into the research.

Please take the time to check out Mars Sustainable Cocoa Initiative HERE and HERE as they secure cocoa’s future. 

You can find out all about this amazing program by clicking Cocoa Sustainability.  To learn more about the cocoa genome you can click HERE

Feel free to follow Mars on Facebook and Twitter.

After the wonderful discussion on how Mars is changing cocoa we were able to enjoy a taste testing with Mr. Seguine, the chocolate expert, we learned that chocolate is not a food but a feeling.

I close this post with one request.

Ed Seguine and Michelle Lee (me)
I want you to close your eyes and remember the first time you can remember trying chocolate and how it made you feel?  That’s what Ed taught us.  It is a feeling and not a food.   He says it is a chocolate journey full of anticipation and then just appreciate the whole journey in your mind.

Remember where you were, what you were doing, how you were feeling, who you were with. 
Then remember.  ~ Ed Seguine

**I am currently working with DOVE and was compensated for my work and my time traveling to Elizabethtown, Pa.  The opinions expressed belong entirely to me, Michelle Lee.  This post was very important to me because I wanted to share with you that everything Mars is doing to help the progress with cocoa farmers and everything in italics is from their site.**

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