What is sustainable cocoa? Constellations of commercial, socio-economic and environmental priorities associated with a polysemic concept

Research output: Working paper


Given rising concerns regarding the chocolate sector’s long-term future, increasingly more private-sector, public-sector and civil-society stakeholders have become involved in initiatives aiming to make cocoa production more ‘sustainable’. However, the environmental, commercial and socio-economic priorities they associate with the omnipresent, polysemic term diverge: while transforming the crop into a more attractive livelihood for growers is crucial for some, others prioritise links to global environmental challenges through agroforestry. A third dimension encompasses commercial concerns
related to securing supply. With these incongruent understandings of what
sustainability is and is to entail contributed by diverse civil-society, public-sector and private-sector stakeholders, the paper argues that priorities associated with cocoa ‘sustainability’ diverge, yielding synergies, trade-offs and dilemmas for cocoa governance.

This paper builds on the author's in-depth doctoral fieldwork in cocoa sustainability initiatives incorporating environmental measures, which encompassed semi-structured interviews, focus-group discussions, documentary analysis and participant observation in Latin America and Europe. Developing the ‘constellations of priorities’ model, it captures how the priorities driving cocoa sustainability stakeholders variously dovetail, intersect and collide. Particularly against the backdrop of the cocoa sector’s brewing crisis, it proposes that stakeholders systematically assess their and other actors’ socio-economic, environmental and commercial priorities as part of the equitable
engagement between stakeholders necessary to transform the sector.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - 2017

Publication series

NameGlobal Development Institute Working Paper Series