Press Release Sustainability

Innovative new alliance in Madagascar commits to conserving biodiversity and improving the livelihoods of over 2,000 small-holder cocoa and spice farmers

For Release May 7, 2021 9:45a EDT

WASHINGTON, DC — The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and partners are pleased to announce a new $5.8 million public-private partnership focused on conserving biodiversity and improving the well-being and prosperity of local communities in Madagascar through sustainable fine cocoa and spice production. 

Launched on World Chocolate Day, the TSIRO (Thriving & Sustainable Investments for land Restoration & economic Opportunity) Alliance is committed to supporting more than 2,000 Malagasy farmers in 30 communities, planting over 1.5 million trees to support agroforestry systems and enhancing biodiversity over the next five years. TSIRO means “flavor” in Malagasy.

With already high rates of deforestation, poverty, and malnutrition, the Southern African island nation of Madagascar has an urgent need for scalable, innovative solutions. The TSIRO Alliance will address both human-induced and natural causes that threaten Madagascar’s fragile ecosystems by diversifying income streams, using climate smart agriculture techniques, and reasserting the value of healthy trees and ecosystems. The Alliance will provide business development and educational training to farmers to improve education outcomes in participating communities, and will also introduce Village Savings and Loans programs to improve financial management. The agroforestry systems that will be used in this project will incorporate cocoa and other spices, such as vanilla, cinnamon, or wild pepper. These systems have been shown to improve environmental health by reducing soil erosion, improving air quality, and providing a stable, diversified income for small-scale farmers.

The TSIRO Alliance is part of USAID’s “HEARTH” Global Development Alliance program, a growing suite of cross-sectoral public-private partnerships for people and the planet. TSIRO is a collaboration between USAID and private-sector partners including Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA), Madecasse-Beyond Good Chocolate (M-BG), Guittard Chocolate, Akesson Organics, and the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund (HCP). Each partner contributes their technical expertise, local and international networks, and strong connection to the cocoa value chain in Madagascar to the project. All partners share the same goal of producing fine cacao and chocolate that will benefit local Malagasy communities and the unique forests that surround them. While the TSIRO partners take different roles in the Alliance, they share the common goals of strengthening local farming systems and biodiversity while educating the public. 

“The TSIRO model emphasizes the conservation of biodiversity and wildlife while improving farmers’ livelihoods through the creation of business opportunities. This is a tremendous opportunity for key public and private organizations to partner together for real impact here in Madagascar,” said John Dunlop, Mission Director USAID Madagascar. “This project is located around forests in southeastern and northwestern Madagascar that are home to a number of endangered species of lemurs, as well as other animals found nowhere else on earth.” 

The TSIRO Alliance will also educate consumers about the fine-flavor chocolate market. Fine-flavor chocolate makes up only 12 percent of the global market. Many consumers are unaware of the delicate and unique flavor of chocolate originating from Madagascar and the fragile ecosystem where the trees are grown. 
To learn more about the TSIRO Alliance and the partners involved, visit or sign up for the official TSIRO launch webinar on July 8, 2021.

FICA is a non-profit trade association that promotes fine chocolate making practices and innovation, founded in 2007. It is the only organization focused 100% on supporting fine chocolate professionals, representing over 300 members, including fine flavor cacao farmers, chocolate makers, chocolatiers, suppliers of ingredients, packaging and equipment, pastry chefs, marketers, specialty retailers, wholesalers, and festival organizers. The association promotes the artistry and craftsmanship of the chocolate professional focused on producing superior products made from premium chocolate and natural ingredients. FCIA believes in using best practices in cacao processing and chocolate production; and transparent labeling and marketing practices.

For more information on FCIA, please visit our website and social media accounts:

Marketing Contact:
Bill Guyton, Executive Director

General News Sustainability

My Journey from an African Classroom to Fine Chocolate

It’s hard to believe that next year marks my third anniversary as Executive Director of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA). My career path is different from most of the nearly 300 members of our organization. I don’t have a background in culinary arts or chocolate making, nor as a pastry chef. I do, however, have a deep respect for those who make quality chocolate products and the passion and artistry they bring to their businesses. I also am a self-proclaimed “chocoholic.”

My professional career began in 1984 when I joined the US Peace Corps, serving for two years in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mompono is a small village situated south of the Congo river, deep in the rainforest. There, I taught tropical agriculture and biology to 150 high school students at a Catholic Mission. The challenges were many. Residents of Mompono lacked running water, electricity, healthcare services, stores, and any regular communication with the outside world. Despite the hardships, I was amazed at the resiliency of the community and the eagerness of students to learn and excel in school. This experience helped shape my interest and career path in international agriculture.

After receiving my masters’ degree in agricultural economics from Michigan State University in 1990, I returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo for another two years, this time based at an agricultural research station in the Katanga Region. The USAID-funded project provided thousands of farmers with improved maize and peanut seeds, as well as training on farming and marketing. Covered loading docks and bridges were constructed to help store and transport products from rural areas to food deficit areas within the region.

For the eight years that followed, I worked on a number of agricultural development projects. In the Philippines, I joined teams to establish electronic marketing and price information systems among retail and wholesale markets, systems which still operate today. In Sri Lanka, I helped design improved wholesale and retail food distribution in Colombo, for the Ministry of Planning. In Jordan, I worked within the Ministry of Agriculture to improve efficiency and planning of agricultural investments.

My career took another turn in 1998 when I joined the US Grains Council. As their Director of Business Development, I identified new markets for US corn, barley, and sorghum. This involved extensive travel to Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia to support and promote feed grains for livestock development.

In 2000, I was asked by major branded chocolate and cocoa processors to lead their cocoa sustainability efforts. At the time, there was very limited knowledge of cocoa farming systems, deforestation threats, child labor or certification.

The World Cocoa Foundation was formed shortly afterwards. I served as WCF president for nearly 16 years, improving understanding and building alliances.

Chocolate sampling tables at an FCIA event

My journey then led me to FCIA, where I am proud to represent a truly extraordinary group of companies and staff who are dedicated to making quality chocolate products and sourcing cocoa in an ethical and responsible manner.

Despite the challenges of the COVID pandemic in 2020, I see some of the same resiliency that I first noticed in communities during my Peace Corps experience. FCIA and our members are adapting to a challenging business environment and will continue to promote and grow this wonderful segment of the chocolate industry. We could not have made this kind of progress without the many partners inside and outside our community.

Thank you.


Addressing Poverty and Child Labor in Cocoa: A Fine Chocolate Perspective

Despite the COVID pandemic, families and friends around the world are looking forward to the upcoming holiday season. This is the time of the year when we celebrate our blessings and dine together. Chocolate will invariably be on the menu, since it is one of the most popular desserts in the world.

As you prepare holiday menus and shop for food, take a moment to think about your chocolate purchase. Where was the chocolate made? Where were the ingredients sourced from, and by whom? 

Most cocoa is grown in West Africa. In recent years, production in this region has expanded and currently accounts for over 70 percent of global supply. The nearly 2 million farms in the region are managed by families on individual landholdings of less than 5 acres. In these rural areas, there is limited infrastructure, social services, or regulatory oversight.

Since farming is a family business, children routinely help to clear land, maintain orchards, and harvest cocoa. This can involve hazardous work such as pesticide applications, machete use, and carrying heavy loads. Many children living on farms do not have access to or attend school. The overarching problem in the region is a marketing system that clearly benefits large companies and governments, while famers remain impoverished. Poverty and child labor are invariably interlinked.

This month, NORC at the University of Chicago issued a report commissioned by the US Department of Labor to assess progress on child labor mitigation efforts on cocoa farms in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. A second report, conducted by NORC and issued by the World Cocoa Foundation, examined company-specific programs to combat child labor in cocoa supply chains. The overall findings from NORC showed a persistent and ogoing problem of child labor on farms in West Africa. Rick Scoby at the World Cocoa Foundation provided a comprehensive and balanced review of both reports. As he said, “It is important to note this report, led by the U.S. Department of Labor, is not about the abhorrent practices of forced child labor or forced adult labor in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, which other studies show is extremely rare in the cocoa sector.”

The NORC reports made several recommendations, such as scaling up company programs, increasing child labor monitoring and remediation, adopting living income differential (LID) wages for farmers, and investing significantly in education. To learn more about LID, please visit FCIA member’s Uncommon Cacao’s blog explaining how this works.

Is there the political will to make this happen? Are there any significant changes to the cocoa marketing system that can result in better equity for farmers?

The Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) and our 300 members represent companies dedicated to promoting and supporting fine chocolate. Although our footprint is small in comparison to the full chocolate industry, our company members are innovative and offer consumers quality and healthy chocolate. This website, Make Mine Fine Marketplace, lists over 80 of our company members who sell chocolate directly to consumers online. Learn about how these companies source cocoa and compensate farmers in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. We also encourage you to take a virtual journey to cocoa producing countries to learn the history, farming and marketing practices, and unique flavor profiles in each country. 

To reduce cocoa farmer poverty, cocoa farmers need to make more for their crop. Are you willing to pay more for quality chocolate, knowing that you are not only supporting artisan chocolate companies but also helping cocoa farmers and their families? 


Chocolate and Biodiversity — A Sustainable Pairing

Rainforests in Africa, Asia and Latin America are home to some of the most unique animal and plant life on earth. As many of us know, these fragile ecosystems are under severe threat from illegal logging, hunting and agriculture. Unless better environmental protection measures are followed, many flora and fauna species will be lost forever. 

The humid tropic regions are also the only places where cocoa grows.  

Cocoa farming can be either destructive or helpful to the environment, depending on how the crop is cultivated. When cocoa is grown in forest reserves as a monoculture, it can deplete soils and destroy habitats.

lizard from Madagascar
Photo credit: BFREE

On the other hand, when grown responsibly, cocoa can provide a home to native plants and animals normally dependent upon tropical forest.  Russell Greenberg from the Smithsonian Migratory Birds Center writes that “this enhancement of biodiversity in the agricultural landscape occurs primarily on a local scale—providing homes and food for more generalized forest species that are intolerant of pastures or farm fields.”    

The Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA) and our members are committed to making the best quality chocolate available in the market. Our companies equally care about protecting the environment where cocoa grows.  Here are two great examples:

Madagascar: FCIA member Beyond Good was featured in a recent article explaining how they are working with local researchers at the Bristol Zoological Society in Madagascar to protect habitat for Lemurs. Dr. Amanda Webber of the Bristol Zoological Society highlighted the conclusions from their research. “The findings are exciting as they suggest that these highly threatened animals can live in human-dominated areas and cacao could be an example of a crop that, when grown sustainably, has the potential to benefit wildlife and people.”

Photo credit: Beyond Good
Montezuma’s Oropendola
Photo credit: Wikimedia

Belize: FICA partner  BFREE Foundation in Belize is growing HCP designated criollo cocoa in a mixed agroforestry setting. BFREE Biological Field Station and Privately Protected Area is home to over 80 migratory and resident bird species including the Scarlet Macaw and Montezuma’s Oropendola. It is considered one of the most acclaimed birding sites in Belize.

The next time you purchase chocolate, take a moment to check where it was sourced. To order online fine chocolate from our member companies and learn more about the cocoa supply chain, please explore our Make Mine Fine website.


Climate Change and Chocolate

Climate change is impacting agricultural production around the world. Tropical crops such as cacao are particularly sensitive to even small changes in temperature and rainfall. In a recent article, Nick Hines at the Matador Network explains that the majority of cacao trees farms around the world are rainfed. As topical areas become dryer, there is a direct negative impact on cacao production, which in turn harms farmer livelihoods. Cocoa bean quality and flavor is also diminished.

What can be done to protect cocoa and the fragile environments where it grows? 

A man crosses a stream in a cacao grove in Belize
Photo credit: Maya Mountain Cacao, Belize

First of all, FCIA and our company members are committed to addressing these problems. We have partnered with experts to promote stronger environmental stewardship and agroforestry systems on cocoa farms and support farmers by offering better prices for quality cocoa. It is important to read the labels on chocolate you purchase and to visit company websites to learn more about how and where they source cocoa.

Secondly, cocoa researchers from institutes such as the Cocoa Research Center in Trinidad and CATIE in Costa Rica are breeding cocoa through natural means that are more drought tolerant or resistant, while maintaining flavor. This is a much longer term investment, but will help future farmers.