BERLIN, April 23 (Reuters) - The cocoa sector must move away from a "selfish" focus on ensuring supplies and towards promoting crop diversity to make the sector more sustainable, an executive with Swiss chocolate maker Barry Callebaut said on Monday.
Nicko Debenham, vice president of sustainability, told a conference in Berlin that cocoa sustainability efforts must shift towards encouraging farmers to diversify their crops in order to avoid oversupply and plummeting prices.
"The most important thing we should recognise is that it has to be a diverse form of income," he said. "Historically, cocoa has been a very selfish sector in that we have promoted the growing of cocoa and not diversifying the farm."
Chocolate companies have sought to improve farmers' incomes by helping them boost productivity through measures such as providing higher yielding seeds but critics argue the approach has contributed to overproduction and driven down prices.
A large global surplus of cocoa in the 2016/17 season (October/September) sparked a fall in New York futures in April last year to a more than nine-year low.
Top grower Ivory Coast's marketing board last month said it planned to halt distribution of higher-grade seeds and plants by chocolate makers.
Farmers must use productivity gains to grow more cocoa on less land and use the rest to grow other crops, "ensuring that we're not over-producing cocoa and getting ourselves into the mess that we find ourselves in at the moment," Debenham told the conference.
Other potential crops in Ivory Coast include coffee and rubber. (Reporting by Ana Ionova; editing by David Evans)