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Lessons in Problem-solving from Côte d'Ivoire

Many of us love chocolate, but do we know that while we're enjoying our favorite treat, the process that brings it to us creates child labor and deforestation? Enter Côte d'Ivoire, a West African nation whose 20% of GDP comes from cocoa-related businesses. Apart from dangerously depending on one crop, Côte d'Ivoire has, according to the UNDP, lost about 80% of its forest to make way for cocoa plantations. Besides, of the total of 6 million cocoa farmers, more than 1.5 million are children. Knowing these pressing issues, the UN has implemented several programs to uplift the country's quality of life and environment related to cocoa farming. This presents important lessons for governments, NGOs, and businesses alike.


As much of Côte d'Ivoire's forest land was destroyed to make way for plantations, reforestation became one of the UN's first actions in the country. Also, to combat the child labor problem, UNICEF has successfully reintegrated around 1,500 of the most threatened child farmers (living in the poorest conditions and receiving the worst treatment) into school systems. While policy-wise, the UN has pushed for regulations to protect the environment and children's rights, on the ground, nothing would happen without planting real trees and rescuing real children. These programs, therefore, illustrate that "quick fixes," or actions that can be taken quickly to patch up "wounds," are as important as long-term policies and development plans. Whenever public or private sector players cause any damage to People or Planet, the first thing to do is apply direct actions that remove the threat as quickly as possible.


To systematically dismantle systemic problems, a structure that upholds them must be addressed. In this case, that structure—the root cause—is a lack of education, both in terms of formal schooling and agricultural knowledge. The former resulted in children resorting to cocoa farming to survive, while the latter resulted in Côte d'Ivoire being solely dependent on cocoa. The said dependency renders the country dependent on money from cocoa importers and makes the soil inarable due to the low cyclical nature of farming. Thus far, the UN has funded millions of Dollars into Côte d'Ivoire's school system development. Apart from that, it has also provided support for setting up daycare centers, children's hospitals, and the infrastructure for birth registration—a vital tool that prevents the case where children without identity are forced into plantations. Regarding farming knowledge, a pool of experts has been sent to Côte d'Ivoire to teach soil treatment and techniques to gain more yields, as well as expertise on other crops that could be planted when cocoa is not in season. Though these programs have just been initiated, the lessons they teach is that in preventing issues from arising again, their root causes must be searched for, then addressed.

Without quick, direct mitigating actions, problems might spill over to something more significant, for policy and long-term plans alone will take time to take hold. On the other hand, without thinking far ahead into the future and implementing schemes to solve the issue's roots, the "quick fixes" will eventually dissipate, and the problems will return. To solve matters sustainably, think in both dimensions—what can we do now, what is the root cause, then how to fix it?

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