Cote d’Ivoire cocoa continues to struggle with deforestation and child labour issues linked to farmer poverty

By Anthony Myers

- Last updated on GMT

Cote d'Ivoire cocoa farmers are struggling to earn a living income, which is adding to deforestation in the country, two new reports highlight. Pic: EU
Cote d'Ivoire cocoa farmers are struggling to earn a living income, which is adding to deforestation in the country, two new reports highlight. Pic: EU

Related tags Côte d'ivoire Cocoa Sustainability Chocolate

The West African country is the world’s largest cocoa grower, but sustainability problems persist despite numerous government and industry interventions, as highlighted by two recent reports.

The latest academic environmental research into transparency, traceability and deforestation in Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa supply chain was published at the beginning of the year on the academic website,​ claiming that cocoa imports to the EU were associated with the loss of 830,000 hectares of forest between 2000 and 2015.

A more recent Reuters’ investigation​ has also revealed that Ivorian farmers said they are being paid well below the Living Income Differential (LID), a price set by the government to ensure a living wage for farmers. According to the report, industry experts blamed the situation on surpluses that have kept cocoa cheap globally, as well as on chocolate companies, global commodity buyers and intermediaries in the field seeking to protect margins. They cited inherent flaws in the government programme, including a lack of supply management.

Since the LID scheme began in 2019, the official farmgate price has only touched Ivory Coast's living income target of 1,000 CFA/kg ($1.66/kg) once - for the main crop of 2020/21, data collected by Reuters showed.

It is a blow to global efforts to make the production of chocolate bars more ethically sound after years of promises to purge the industry of child labour, poverty and rampant deforestation​,” the Reuters' journalist says.

As CN also reported​, to protect the farmgate price, Cote d’Ivoire began issuing identity cards last year that tracks the origin of the cocoa, while allowing direct electronic payments from exporters. So far 300,000 cards have been issued, reducing the power of intermediaries to demand lower prices.

Cocoa & Forests Initiative (CFI)

While the cocoa industry has been seen to tackle the deforestation issue in more recent times with the World Cocoa Foundation-backed Cocoa & Forests Initiative (CFI), academics have highlighted that in the past 60 years, the West African Country has lost 80% of its forests due to cocoa farming, with at least one-fourth of cocoa beans being cultivated in protected areas.

Researchers said they used publicly-available remote-sensing and supply chain data to quantify cocoa-driven deforestation and trace 2019 cocoa exports and the associated deforestation from their department of origin, via trading companies, to international markets. “Only 43.6% (95% CI: 42.6%–44.7%) of exports can be traced back to a specific cooperative and department. The majority of cocoa (over 55%) thus remains untraced, either indirectly sourced from local intermediaries by major traders (23.9%, 95% CI: 22.9%–24.9%), or exported by untransparent traders who disclose no information about their suppliers (32.4%). Traceability to farm lags further behind, and is insufficient to meet the EU due-diligence legislation's proposed requirement for geolocation of product origins.

“We estimate that trading companies in the Cocoa and Forests Initiative have mapped 40% of the total farms supplying them, representing only 22% of all Ivorian cocoa exports in 2019. We identify 838,000 hectares of deforestation over 2000–2015 associated with 2019 EU imports, 56% of this arising through untraced sourcing.”


The EU Commission has approved new regulations meant to curb imports of commodities that cause deforestation, including cocoa, where companies could be required to prove that their products are 'deforestation-free' and is expected to enter into force in 2025.

Because cocoa farms, particularly in West Africa, often become unproductive, the problem stems from farmers having to move onto the surrounding forest and cut down trees. It’s an issue that chocolate and cocoa companies are aware of and through initiatives such as the CFI are working to resolve.

As the research states, Ivorian farmers do not reap the benefits of the extremely lucrative global chocolate industry, with most of the profits going to foreign companies. The West African nation receives only 7% of the global revenue from cocoa beans and, in 2014, over 54% of Ivorian cocoa producers lived below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

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