Is sustainability under threat?

Mighty Earth launches new interactive map to track cocoa-driven deforestation in Ghana

By Anthony Myers contact

- Last updated on GMT

Mighty Earth claims that 30-40% of cocoa is still untraceable. Pic: Mighty Earth
Mighty Earth claims that 30-40% of cocoa is still untraceable. Pic: Mighty Earth

Related tags: Sustainability, Cocoa, Ghana

Despite numerous government and industry pledges to reduce deforestation in Ghana, forest loss in the West African country remains high, claims Mighty Earth.

As the industry is aware, supply chains have been under increasing pressure in the past 12 months with companies dealing with rising commodity prices while the farmgate price of cocoa remains low due to a supply deficit in the 2021-2022 season, placing more pressure on farmers.

Mighty Earth’s latest figures show 10,550 hectares of deforestation in 2022 within cocoa-growing regions, with 8,188 hectares of this clearance occurring within forest reserves. It is likely that much of this clearance has been for cocoa plot expansion.

It is possible to prevent cocoa from deforested areas ending up in chocolate products, but two things need to happen. Firstly, small-scale farmers, which are the bedrock of the industry, need to be properly remunerated, creating a disincentive to farm in forest reserves, or protected areas. Secondly, we need effective monitoring -- Dr Julian Oram, Senior Director for Africa at Mighty Earth

The environmental organisation said it has has been working with RADD (Radar for Detecting Deforestation) forest-alert data from 2019 onwards to identify areas of recent land clearance across Ghana, which has lost more than 2.5 million hectares (33.7%) of its forest since the early 1990s.

Sam Mawutor, Senior Advisor, Ghana at Mighty Earth, explained the cocoa beans’ journey from farm to the first point of purchase is still the hardest to track and this is where beans from deforested areas can be mixed with those grown on legally cultivated land.

The grim reality is that 30 – 40% of cocoa is still untraceable. Some chocolate companies are sitting on that information. Our map can be used to raise deforestation alerts and to hold big business accountable for bad practices. Locally we’re promoting the use of agroforestry approaches, which give value to standing trees and help diversify farmer livelihoods​,” he said.

Data layers

The open-source map for the Ghanaian cocoa industry consolidates data layers to provide greater transparency around deforestation linked to cocoa industry supply chains. The initiative provides visibility to cocoa cooperatives, with data released by Whittaker, Barry Callebaut, Olam, Blommer, Ecom, Ferrero, Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and Tony’s Chocolonely.

Dr Julian Oram, Senior Director for Africa at Mighty Earth, said: “It is possible to prevent cocoa from deforested areas ending up in chocolate products, but two things need to happen. Firstly, small-scale farmers, which are the bedrock of the industry, need to be properly remunerated, creating a disincentive to farm in forest reserves, or protected areas. Secondly, we need effective monitoring, which is where our Ghana Cocoa Accountability Map comes in. Our aim is for farmers, cocoa companies, NGOs, and governmental organisations to work together to end deforestation in supply chains and meet commitments for full traceability from farm gate to chocolate produc​t.”

Interactive map

The new interactive map highlights deforestation hotspots, including those within protected areas and forest reserves, and shows their proximity to Licensed Buying Companies (LBCs) supplying major cocoa traders and chocolate companies. 

Evelyn Aziamati, a cocoa farmer from Adjoobo Okrase in Ghana’s Eastern Region, said: “Protecting our livelihoods means addressing deforestation and being aware of what is happening in our local area. Tracking where the threats are can help us to raise the alarm before one hectare of deforestation becomes ten. Keeping our farms going and being able to provide for our families, means growing cocoa sustainably and using standing forests to support our work​.”

The new initiative by Mighty Earth comes as Harriet Thompson, United Kingdom (UK) High Commissioner to Ghana, warned that over 70% of Ghana’s cocoa growing areas will no longer be suitable to grow the crop by 2050.

'Now​ is the time to adapt'

In a tweet, she said: “Over 70% of land currently used to grow cocoa in Ghana will not be suitable for that crop by 2050 if temperatures continue to rise as they are doing currently. Now is the time to adapt – and the potential to do so is great​.”

The High Commissioner followed up her remarks with a visit to the Minister of Food and Agriculture, Dr Owusu Akoto Afriyie, to talk specifically on the subject of the United Kingdom Support Climate Smart Agriculture in Ghana initiative.

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