Q&A with Alain Fredericq
Director, global business development and sustainability
and David Loue,
Agricultural product manager, ADM Cocoa
Today, ADM maintains a host of different programs designed to help us source responsibly grown cocoa beans in western Africa while improving the lives and livelihoods of cocoa growers. What prompted the company to become so closely involved with farmers and communities in this region?
Alain Fredericq: When I started managing the origination processing side of our cocoa operations in Côte d’Ivoire more than a decade ago, my focus was clear: to help secure sources of high-quality cocoa. It wasn’t just about securing adequate quantities. By being on the ground and working through co-ops to reach growers, our aim was to source better-quality beans. That’s how we started our capacity-building programs. I had to build closer relationships with farmers and cooperatives in the region by telling them more about what we were expecting, and letting them know that we could help them achieve our quality standards.
When we began to put in place the technical training programs, we learned quickly that the main challenge was really to professionalize the growers, because these individuals, most of them, were not professional farmers; they were farmers by default. They had no access to extension services, education and training or financial support, so as a result, they lacked certain basic agronomic skills. Our challenge was to help them evolve into professional farmers.
It would have been relatively easy just to teach better agronomic practices. But agronomic issues represent just one type of challenge facing cocoa farmers in this region. They also face health and social issues, environmental issues and a lack of access to capital, modern equipment and technology. So to be effective, we recognized that we’d need to take a more comprehensive approach. And the truth is, if you have an audience of 100 growers and you’re training them on agronomic practices to improve crop yields and crop quality, it doesn’t take much more time, effort or money to talk about HIV/AIDS and disease prevention, fair labor standards, safe environmental practices and so on. That’s how we moved to the full-fledged sustainability approach we employ today, which is really a business-driven, quality-driven approach.
At the outset, what did you envision this approach would achieve for the company, and for the farmers and cooperatives?
David Loue: The hope was that, over time, we’d bring knowledge and resources to cocoa co-ops, improve their overall performance in terms of quality and agricultural practices, and make them sound, profitable enterprises—all while bringing greater efficiency and better-quality cocoa to ADM. Our core activity as a business unit is grinding and processing cocoa, not agricultural extension and development. But, it’s important to support our partners as they work to achieve good results on the social and environmental aspects of cocoa farming.
ADM operates its own holistic sustainability programs, such as SERAP, our flagship initiative. But we also partner with global organizations and other stakeholders — including the World Cocoa Foundation and the International Cocoa Initiative — to address a common set of issues: environmental stewardship, chronic disease, appropriate labor standards, and so on. It seems as though there’s a bit of overlap.
Fredericq: If you take the four major producing countries in west Africa – Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria — you’re looking at about 2 million cocoa growers. No single company or agency can reach out to 2 million growers — it’s simply impossible. We at ADM have reached an estimated 30,000 farmers through our SERAP program in the past five years. That’s good, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. So the question becomes, how do we reach more? And the answer is, we need to work collectively to address these supply-chain challenges as a group of companies and organizations.
Back in 2002, ADM and fellow industry participants looked at opportunities to leverage our individual companies’ efforts and develop a standard set of tools that could help farmers in the region improve crop quality in sustainable ways. That’s how the Sustainable Tree Crops Program’s Farmer Field Schools came about. They were an effort on the part of USAID and the World Cocoa Foundation, an industry non-profit foundation of which ADM is a founding member, to develop a kind of standard curriculum on good agricultural practices for cocoa, focusing on areas such as integrated crop- and pest-management. Now, those programs have reached an estimated 100,000 farmers in the region. And since 2009, the Cocoa Livelihoods Program, funded by industry and by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has been working to reach an additional 200,000 cocoa growers. It’s all about combining efforts to put farmers first.
The fact that growers who are participating in these sustainability programs are regularly producing higher volumes of high-quality cocoa suggests the agronomic side of these efforts is having a positive effect. What about the social aspects? Are the initiatives that have been designed to, for instance, prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and to improve school attendance working well?
Loue: In communities where we have trained farmers on the importance of addressing these issues, there have been positive changes. Traditionally, talking about HIV/AIDS was taboo in some communities. These are very conservative places where any talk to do with sex is usually avoided. But with the sensitization these programs teach, more people now know it’s important to be aware of risks. And now, in these communities, HIV/AIDS is a matter openly discussed in village meetings, and this is a great change.
The same is true of school attendance. In most areas in Côte d’Ivoire, school attendance is relatively high, but it sometimes is lower among children of farm workers. Sometimes, because of rigid beliefs or lack of resources, farmers don’t want to send all their children to school. But again, now with the sensitization programs, we have a sense that the situation is improving.
How important are these various sustainability programs to the future of cocoa in western Africa?
Loue: What we know is that if growers don’t have access to the information they need to improve their production, we will have a cocoa supply that will decrease over the years. We need to have farmers focus on producing good cocoa, using good practices, so they can be more efficient. That’s how we will sustain the world’s cocoa supply, and it’s also how we will have a better-quality cocoa supply. It’s important for the industry to support these kinds of sustainability programs.
Trained as a civil engineer and agronomist, Alain Fredericq began his career working to advance agricultural development in the west African nations of Niger and Cameroon by collaborating with farmers and local governments on major irrigation, rice, cotton and sorghum projects.
After earning a master’s degree in business administration from Institut Européen d'Administration des Affaires, or INSEAD, in Paris, Fredericq worked for the consumer foods division of Corn Products in Portugal, for Monsanto’s NutraSweet division, and for Grace Cocoa, which was acquired by ADM in 1997. Today, he leverages his expertise to oversee the company’s numerous cocoa-sustainability programs, projects and partnerships aimed at helping ADM secure a high-quality supply of responsibly grown cocoa. In addition to his MBA, Fredericq holds a master’s degree in food engineering from the Institut National Agronomique Paris-Grignon.
David Loue also brings a combination of public- and private-sector experience to his role managing the company’s flagship Socially and Environmentally Responsible Agricultural Practices program, or SERAP, and other sustainability and community-development initiatives. While studying agronomy at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Agronomie in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, he was selected to receive a USAID scholarship to study Agricultural and Resource Economics at the graduate level at Oregon State University. He also holds a diploma in project planning and management from the University of Bradford in Bradford, England.
Loue’s professional experience began at the Ministry of Agriculture in Côte d’Ivoire, where he oversaw planning of agricultural projects. He later joined the Bureau National d’Etudes Techniques et de Developpement, a consulting agency, where he was in charge of the implementation of a large-scale modern agricultural development project. Later, he went to work for SIFCA — at the time, one of the nation’s largest cocoa buyers — which was subsequently acquired by ADM. Today, in addition to his leading role in ADM’s cocoa-sustainability initiatives, he also handles crop forecasting and other responsibilities for ADM Cocoa.