Dried cocoa beans in farmers hand: The cocoa journey starts with the raw beans grown on cocoa farms across the world. As part of the Nestlé programme farmers are shown how to dry cocoa beans more effectively, encouraging more even drying and minimizing spoilage. Photo Credit: Nestlé

They say the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach. And whether you’re enjoying the fruits (or beans!) of the world’s cocoa harvest through your favorite candy bar during your afternoon snack, or receiving a heart-shaped box of cream-filled goodness for Valentine’s Day today, it’s worth considering how the delectable confection came to be in the first place – and how supporting the industry can lead to increased global food security.

You might think that’s quite a jump. But cocoa in West Africa contributes considerably to farmer livelihoods and national economies. Collectively, this region’s 2 million smallholder cocoa farmers produce approximately 70% of the world’s supply. With a projected strong, long-term demand, cocoa has great potential to increase these farmers’ incomes. To do so significantly requires improving productivity to make cocoa farming more economically attractive and environmentally sustainable.

The U.S. Government is supporting precisely these efforts with Feed the Future, President Obama’s global hunger and food security initiative. Through a partnership between the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the World Cocoa Foundation and the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), Feed the Future has embarked upon an alliance that will help alleviate poverty and increase farmer incomes in West Africa while strengthening government and regional institutions, advancing food security throughout the region.

Over its five-year lifespan, Feed the Future’s Africa Cocoa Initiative (ACI) will leverage a total of $11 million in investments from its principal partners. It also includes private sector participation from key chocolate-producing companies, including ADM Cocoa, Barry Callebaut, Blommer Chocolate Company, Cargill, Continaf BV, Ferrero, Guittard Chocolate Company, The Hershey Company, Kraft Foods, Lindt & Sprungli, Nestle, Olam International Ltd. and Mars.

To create an environment where increased productivity is possible, the ACI is providing farmer productivity training, including disease and pest control, harvesting, drying, pruning and worker safety; introducing higher-yielding tree stock; and working with agro-dealer networks to improve access to fertilizer, inputs and extension support. The project also supports propagation of new clones and seed gardens adapted to West African soils. Ultimately, the ACI aims to double cocoa productivity and train 100,000 farmers.

So it’s nice to keep in mind that, as you enjoy your chocolate treats today and all year long, there are long-term efforts in place to help those who made its production possible. And that’s an idea we can all fall in love with.

Feed the Future is the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. To learn more or to get involved, visit www.feedthefuture.gov