Interview with John Kehoe by James and Kyle

Cocoa 2

Interview with John Kehoe by James and Kyle



Interview with Mr. John Kehoe

Director of Sustainability for Guittard Chocolate


Kyle Sutherland and James McIntyre

john_Kehoe_ Headshot

John Kehoe

Dear Mr. Kehoe,

Both James and I would like to thank you for coming into the Pencils for Africa meeting a few weeks ago. I speak for the whole team when I say, that we learned a lot from you and really enjoyed the knowledge about the cocoa pod, beans, butter, powder and most of all the amazing taste of the finished chocolate bar.

James and I have both been reading the book that you had recommended to Mr. Ajania, “40 Chances” by Howard Buffet


There were so many aspects to the Guittard Chocolate Company that excited us all to learn more:

* Sustainability with cocoa farming in Africa and other parts of the world.

* The interest in education for the children of the farmers.

* What it means to have co-operative farms, pertaining to the cocoa production.

* Female leadership in the production of chocolate in Africa.

* The future of chocolate farming in Africa.


Howard Buffet

James and I have read the book you recommended to Mr. Ajania, 40 Chances by Howard Buffet.

We have found it interesting, and feel it is a good background education for us to do our case study with you and the Guittard Chocolate Company.

We would like to ask some questions from the PFA team that we are including in this email with hopes of gaining more knowledge about the company.

James and I will present this information to the PFA team by the end of our school year.


James and Kyle

  1. We understand that growing cocoa beans in Africa could be difficult knowing that the political environment could cause barriers to cocoa bean production. Do you and the farmers run into difficulties dealing with local governments as well as statewide regulations on cocoa beans?

Partnering with producer country government organizations is essential to creating broad impact via good policy. While this is particularly important for a smaller company, like Guittard, it is true for all industry efforts. To put this into perspective, large scale World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) projects like the Cocoa Livelihoods Project cofounded by the Gates Foundation and industry leaders aims to impact 200,000 farmers in the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria. In the Ivory Coast alone it is estimated that there are close to 1,000,000 cocoa farmers…!

Helping one farmer, or one community, one cooperative or many is important. Every effort is important and they all can make a difference. That said, to positively impact as many cocoa farmers as possible, through the World Cocoa Foundation, we also work to partner with local governments for support better policy that can positively impact all cocoa farmers.


James and I would both like to thank you for coming into the Pencils for Africa meeting a few weeks ago.

Here are a few examples:

Quality:   Through the first phase of the WCF/USAID Africa Cocoa Initiative (2012 – 2016), Guittard has led an important effort to train the Ghana Cocoa Research Institute (CRIG) in cocoa flavor assessment. This is a critical skill for understanding the critical component of their cocoa’s value:


CRIG is using their small-scale chocolate making lab and tasting skills to develop the disease resistant, productive varieties of cocoa that maintain the traditional flavor of Ghana cocoa that the market wants.

During ACI-1, CRIG trained over 500 extension agents of the Ghana Cocoa Board’s “Cocoa Health and Extension Division (CHED) on the flavor impacts of proper harvesting, fermenting, drying and storage of cocoa beans.

Under ACI-2 (2017 – 2022), Guittard is leading the expansion of this training to the Ivory Coast and scaling up the work in the two largest cocoa producing countries in the world.


Child Welfare: The Ivory Coast in particular has been cited for the presence of child labor in cocoa and even cases of child trafficking. These are of course a very serious issues that are rooted in poverty in the Ivory Coast as well as in neighboring countries. Certifications like Fair Trade help address both the root causes of child labor and help communities and cooperatives build awareness and ­monitoring systems. Guittard is also a supporting member of the International Cocoa Initiative (ICI), an important organization that is leading the way in addressing child labor in cocoa.

ICI works with companies and supply chains but also with traditional, tribal governing systems as the formal governments on local and central levels. ICI empowers communities to address their needs and work with local governments to help address them in long-term sustainable ways.


  1. In PFA we have been learning that listening has been one of the biggest factors in misunderstandings between what people are needing from the villages and what other people, such as well intended Americans and Europeans, feel is best for the villagers in Africa.

This is such a great life lesson and an important point.

One reason we like Fair Trade Certification is that farmers and farmer organizations decide how they will use and invest their fair trade premiums.

There are a few key components to fair trade:

Democratic governance of cooperative or farmer organizations, adherence to fair trade principals and a fair trade premium (US$200 per metric ton of cocoa) that is paid directly to farmer organizations.  As an example, a small to medium sized cocoa cooperative in the Ivory Coast may produce 400 MT of cocoa, that would represent $80,000 per year in fair trade premiums.

That is a lot of money!


Local community level organizations submit their suggestions to a cooperative board of directors and Premium Committee who then prepare a ‘Fair Trade Development Plan’ that outlines how the premium money will spent and invested. That development plan is then voted on in an annual general assembly. Typically, they will vote to distribute part as a cash bonus to farmers based on their sales to the coop. They may also direct part of the premium to supply small tools such as machetes, or boots. Important community investments are made with these funds and can range from building or refurbishing schools, health clinics, installing wells for potable water (villagers, often women and children walk miles for water that can often be unsafe surface water).

Interestingly, these investments help the entire community, not just the cocoa farmers or cooperative members. Investing in the management, governance and operations of the cooperative is also important to assure the co-op can continue to provide services and benefits to the farmers and to the community.


  1. Do the sustainable cocoa farmers ever feel pressured to only grow cocoa?  Do the cocoa farms grow any other sustainable products?

Farmers are not pressured to grow cocoa.

For all the challenges around cocoa production, it continues to be a good option as a cash producing crop. Virtually all cocoa farmers grow or produce other crops of foods, at least on a small scale for their own use or small local sale. There is a strong emphasis now in cocoa sustainability to help cocoa farmers be more productive on less land dedicated to cocoa and diversify their incomes to other crops.

  1. How and have you found the local communities support the cocoa farmers and their families?

This is a good question. In the example of fair trade community investments, it is often the other way around, cocoa farmers supporting their communities. There are many ways communities can help cocoa farmers, among them are community leaders and representatives effectively engaging with local governments for basic needs such as schools, health clinics or safe water so that fair trade premiums can support or amplify those public-sector investments.

That will allow fair trade premiums to be invested more in modernizing cocoa production, crop diversification and income generation for farmers.


  1. What should the PFA team members be doing to ensure the farming of cocoa and other crops are sustainable?

You have already done a lot through your interest in learning about the challenges cocoa farmers face. Helping others understand these challenges, and opportunities, spread this knowledge and awareness. Buying products that are fair trade certified, or other certifications like Rainforest Alliance, is an important way consumers can support cocoa farmers.

  1. Have you found that there is a rise in the interest in cocoa from around the world, and if so, how are the farmers going to handle being sustainable?

Yes, I think there is a lot more awareness around the development issues and challenges that cocoa farmers around the world face. Some important ways cocoa farmers will handle being sustainable is through professionalization and diversification.


Question from the book “40 Chances”

We have learned about the economy and value of land. We see that countries have to compensate for the lack of agricultural land by deforestation of their own land while the US has untapped agricultural potential.

From your knowledge, what is the most internationally beneficial crop that the US could produce?


I am not sure how to answer this question but the issue of land use and land ownership are of critical importance. Due to low productivity and a lack of land ownership, cocoa farmers have looked to new land contributing to deforestation. Helping farmers gain access to land ownership is a great incentive to develop that land in a sustainable way, investing for the long-term and protecting the soils, water systems and forests around that land.

Have you encountered any sustainable biracial farms that produce cocoa?

To some extent but perhaps not the way we think of it.

Cocoa production is often a multi-cultural endeavor where different tribal groups and people from neighboring countries all working together

Thank-you for your time and knowledge.


Thank you for your interest and for caring!

All the best,

James and Kyle

J&K 2