Cocoa industry still failing to end deforestation, new report claims

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT

Forest recently destroyed to grow cocoa near Blolequin in Cote D'Ivoire. Photo: Mighty Earth
Forest recently destroyed to grow cocoa near Blolequin in Cote D'Ivoire. Photo: Mighty Earth

Related tags deforestation

A new report from global advocacy organisation Mighty Earth claims that since the high-profile launch of the Cocoa and Forests Initiative (CFI), Africa’s top cocoa-producing nations continue to see huge areas of forest being destroyed to make room for cocoa production.

The new data analysis by Mighty Earth contained in Sweet Nothings: How the Chocolate Industry has Failed to Honor Promises to End Deforestation in Cocoa Supply Chains, reveals that even after the industry published action plans in 2019, Côte d'Ivoire lost 19,421 hectares – 74.9 sq. mi. – of forest within cocoa growing regions and Ghana lost 39,497 hectares – 152.5 sq. mi. This amounts to a combined area equivalent to the size of the cities of Madrid, Seoul or Chicago.

This report unwraps the unsavoury side of the cocoa industry and shows the urgent need to break the link between chocolate products and deforestation​,” said Glenn Hurowitz, CEO of Mighty Earth. “Chocolate companies like Nestlé, Hershey’s, Mondelez and Mars need to stop making empty promises and start working together with governments in the CFI to establish an open and effective joint deforestation monitoring mechanism this year.​”

All of this devastation is entirely preventable and should have been addressed long ago -- Souleymane Fofana, General Coordinator, RAIDH

Mighty Earth, whose remit is to ‘defend a living planet’, said Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana are estimated to have lost 80% to 90% of their forested area over the last few decades, in large part to make way for cocoa farms.

Through a combination of satellite data analysis and on-the-ground field investigations, Mighty Earth has uncovered evidence of ongoing tropical forest clearance for cocoa. This includes deforestation in designated protected areas that provide vital habitats for endangered wildlife – such as chimpanzees and pygmy hippos. These forests are also critical carbon sinks, vital for slowing both the climate crisis and biodiversity loss.

Other key findings of the comprehensive report include:

  • In Ghana, 2020 tree cover loss countrywide was 370% higher since January 2019 than it was between 2001-2010, and 150% higher than the average tree cover loss between 2011-2019.
  • Average countrywide tree cover loss in Côte d'Ivoire has been 230% higher in the period since January 2019 than it was between 2001-2017, and 340% higher than the average loss during the 2000s.
  • Deforestation is still found throughout protected areas in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, with satellite data analysis and observations from Mighty Earth’s field investigation in Côte d'Ivoire revealing that cocoa expansion is playing a major role in this encroachment.

All of this devastation is entirely preventable and should have been addressed long ago. Meanwhile, forests continue to disappear, endangered species die, and communities suffer​,” said Souleymane Fofana, General Coordinator of the Ivorian Human Rights organisation (RAIDH).

The cocoa industry has the same tools and far more resources than Mighty Earth to track and prevent deforestation, but limited willpower and lack of transparency and accountability continue to be the biggest roadblocks to progress​.”

Cocoa supply chains

The report’s recommendations include chocolate companies, cocoa traders, and governments pooling information about cocoa supply chains, and couple this with satellite data imagery to establish an open and transparent joint deforestation monitoring mechanism in 2022.

Such a mechanism would provide the means for collective action to prevent forest encroachment from cocoa expansion, as well as to target initiatives aimed at improving livelihoods for smallholder farmers in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire​,” the report authors said.

Mighty Earth also recommends that CFI should publicly report progress in reducing deforestation in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, with the aim of achieving zero new deforestation for cocoa within two years – and has called on leading chocolate companies and cocoa traders to play an active role in the restoration of degraded forests and biodiversity in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire.

They should commit to sourcing at least 50% of their cocoa from agroforestry by 2025, and work with cocoa cooperatives and government agencies to help smallholder growers manage the transition from cocoa monocultures to diversified farming systems​,” the report states.

Mighty Earth also flags up the need for more legislation from authorities in the European Union, Japan, and the United States, that “requires companies to conduct thorough due diligence checks to prevent cocoa or cocoa-derived products linked to deforestation from being imported into their consumer markets​.”

The Cocoa and Forests Initiative has lots of potential but currently is not living up to it. It promised so much but is failing to deliver. Cocoa and chocolate companies have a duty to protect the environment or risk losing the commodity they depend on forever because the current situation is unsustainable​,” said Obed Owusu-Addai, Managing Campaigner at EcoCare Ghana.

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1 comment

Deforestation : responsabilities shared between govenments and cocoa/chocolate companies

Posted by François RUF,

Excellent report. At least something close to this real world. Cocoa/chocolate multinationals are not entirely responsible but they hold a heavy share, especially when they pretend to control tracability and pretend that agroforestry is forest. This is greenwashing. Finally governments and private companies keep talking about zero-deforestation while forests are burning, especially in Côte d'Ivoire but also in Liberia now.
May I share my last paper with those who read French? Ref below with an abstract in english
The impact (of fertilizer and credit on the drop in cocoa prices) is undeniable, even though the process of cocoa expansion through migration and deforestation remains the essential factor behind the increase in supply and the fall in price. The argument that yield gains will create “sustainable cocoa” and deter smallholders from clearing forests remains an illusion. Migration continues at the expense of the country’s very last classified forests, east to Abengourou, west to Blolequin, Man and Touba. Again, despite their communication on sustainability and environment-friendly practices, certifications have totally failed. Cocoa in Côte d’Ivoire still depends heavily on deforestation. Finally, on the other side of the Cavally River, Liberia’s large dense forest is disappearing in turn, on the way to a new cocoa boom. Even if public policies are partly responsible, what is left of “sustainability” in the certification and actions of the majority of TNCs? The gap between their virtual communication and reality has never been greater.

Ruf F, 2021 Les standards dits durables appauvrissent-ils les planteurs de cacao ? Interactions entre déforestation en Côte d’Ivoire et au Libéria, crédit à l’achat d’engrais et baisse des cours
(Do so-called sustainable standards impoverish cocoa farmers? Interactions between deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia, credit for fertilizer purchase and falling prices)
Cahiers de l’agriculture, 30 (38).
Published online28 September 2021

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