Interview: WCF President

Big 12 cocoa and chocolate players pledge to end deforestation in cocoa

By Oliver Nieburg

- Last updated on GMT

Poverty reduction key to curbing deforestation in West Africa: WCF president. ©iStock/M_D_A
Poverty reduction key to curbing deforestation in West Africa: WCF president. ©iStock/M_D_A

Related tags Côte d’ivoire World cocoa foundation Poverty Agriculture

The 12 major players in cocoa and chocolate have united with public sector partners to eradicate deforestation in the cocoa supply chain.

The World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) member companies have issued a joint statement of intent to end deforestation and forest degradation, and plan to publish an action plan in November this year.

The statement comes via a collaboration between WCF, the Prince's International Sustainability Unit (ISU) and The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH).

The companies

Barry Callebaut; Blommer Chocolate Company; Cargill; Cémoi; Ecom; Ferrero; The Hershey Company; Mars Incorporated; Mondelēz International; Nestlé; Olam and Touton.

Poverty-driven problem

Speaking to ConfectioneryNews, Richard Scobey, president of the WCF, said poverty was the main driver of deforestation in cocoa.

"Over the past 50 years, almost half of the world's tropical forests have been lost largely to agriculture encroachment.

"The big drivers globally for deforestation globally have been four commodities: Soy, timber, palm oil and livestock.

"In the case of West Africa, cocoa has been a significant driver for deforestation."

Scobey said there was limited data to know if cocoa was responsible for deforestation in West Africa or other activities such as mining.

"But the governments [in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana] estimate about 3% of the forest cover is being lost each year because of agricultural encroachment, and the majority of that would certainly come from cocoa."

Scientific studies

  • monkey primate - KiltedArab
    A recent peer-reviewed study​ found three-quarters of land in 23 protected areas surveyed in Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s premier cocoa grower, had been transformed for cocoa production and found a positive correlation between cocoa farming and the absence of primate species.
  • A 2015 study by Tondoh et al​.​ suggests misuse of agro-chemicals and growing cocoa in full sun without shade is depleting the fertility of soil in Côte d’Ivoire, making it less conducive to cocoa growing. This can lead farmers to search for fresh land to cultivate their crop, which may come at the expense of protected forests.
  • A 2016 study by Barima et al.​ said the Haut Sassandra classified forest in Center-West Côte d’Ivoire covered an area of 102,400 ha when it was created in 1974. Forests covered 93% of the area between 1997 and 2002, before conflict in the country, and less than 28% in 2015, it said. Researchers suggest cocoa growing has been the main cause.

The commitment

This has driven the 12 companies to come together and to collaborate with origin governments to tackle the problem.

"This is the first time the industry as a whole has come together to agree on a collaborative, pre-competitive strategy to end deforestation and forest degradation,”​ said Scobey.

The efforts will begin in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

Yesterday the companies and the WCF met with the Prince of Wales in London, along with government representatives from Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Norway and the UK to announce its statement of intent.

Joint Framework for Action

The 12 companies have agreed to work on a common framework and investment plan to tackle deforestation in collaboration with governments and NGOs.

Four steps

There will be four steps for any company that joins:

  1. Sign the statement of intent
  2. Contribute knowledge on environmental sustainability in cocoa (for the framework due in November)
  3. Endorse and commit to implementing and financing the framework
  4. Commit to moving the framework to other geographies

The public-private partners will create a ‘Joint Framework for Action’, which will be published in November 2017 at COP 23 in Bonn, Germany.

Companies will work individually towards the framework, but there will be an industry-wide monitoring framework to assess progress, said Scobey.

He added other cocoa and chocolate companies are welcome to join and the WCF has already sent messages to its 100 members.

Rainforest Alliance, UTZ and Fairtrade will be invited to participate in framework discussions, he continued.

Why no deadline?

Scobey said some other industries had committed to zero net deforestation to a set deadline, typically 2020 or 2025.

"That option is always very appealing because it's a bold clear statement...the problem in practice with those high level commitments is they have proven difficult to implement on the ground,"​ he said.

WCF has yet to assess the financial packaged needed to end deforestation in the cocoa chain.

Poverty in cocoa

cocoa farmer1

A recent study​ funded by Barry Callebaut found cocoa farmers in top growing nation Côte d’Ivoire typically earn around 91 US cents (CFA 568) per day, less than half of the World Bank’s extreme poverty line for the country ($2.40).

"But there's no question there will be a significant financing requirement,"​ said Scobey, particularly to support inter cropping efforts and expansion farmer training.

Poverty driven

Scobey said, while other commodities were largely cultivate on an industrial scale by companies, around 95% of cocoa is grown by 5m smallholders, mainly on small-scattered plots.

The average farm size for the 95% of cocoa grown by smallholders is between one to three hectares with average yields of below 500 kg per hectare, according to the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO).

The WCF president said deforestation in cocoa primarily "comes from farmers living below the poverty line looking to generate more income and trying to expand their cultivation".

Ending the practice

Is cocoa-driven deforestation contributing to climate change?

Climate change -  f9photos

A 2015 study​ by CIRAD suggested changes in weather and extreme conditions in Côte d’Ivoire may be unrelated to cocoa driven-deforestation and more closely linked to regional climate change drivers. “This does not negate the possibility that increasing deforestation has led to a drier microclimate which made cocoa seedlings more vulnerable and replanting more difficult and hazardous, nor does it deny the contribution that deforestation in the West African rainforest belt has made to global climate change,”​ it said.

Scobey said improving productivity for farmers on existing land by training them to become more entrepreneurial could lift them out of poverty and help halt deforestation.

He also advocated inter-cropping cocoa with other cash crops to help farmers diversify their income streams.

"There also needs to be a long-term evolution of the sector towards larger more professionalized farmers - not large corporate estates, but farmers having 4-5 hectares and managing it is a professional business."

He added that government poverty reduction strategies should help cocoa farmers illegally farming cocoa in protected areas to find alternative livelihoods.

Scobey said many of the farmers cultivating cocoa within protected forest areas yielded just 200-300 kg of cocoa beans per hectare leaving them in absolute poverty.

What about fertilizers and agro-chemicals?

The WCF president said the industry was not adverse to appropriate fertilizer and agro-chemical use.

He said programs and farmers themselves need to map the soil to discover the amount and type of fertilizer that was appropriate.

"As for agro-chemical use, cocoa is highly susceptible to disease and viruses...and you need to fight these with appropriate agro-chemicals,”​ he said.

Background reading...What is the environmental impact of cocoa production?

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