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A study published in March by the European Commission offers a long-awaited blueprint for ending the European Union’s central role in agricultural deforestation – clearing forests for coffee, cocoa and other agricultural products.

The European Union study looks at steps that can be taken to reduce deforestation caused by demand for agricultural commodities consumed by its citizens.

The EU is one of the largest drivers of tropical deforestation. Consumption of agricultural commodities has given the EU a huge and largely unacknowledged footprint in the rainforests. To reduce its forest footprint, the EU must regulate European trade and consumption of forest-risk commodities such as coffee and cocoa. The EU is by far the largest importer of cocoa beans in the world and one of the largest importers of coffee.

The EU has already regulated supply chains in other sectors such as illegal timber, conflict minerals and illegal fishing. Now it wants to regulate on deforestation, but any forest-risk commodity regulation must take account of two realities.

First, the conversion of forest land to large-scale agricultural production is the primary cause of deforestation. Therefore, any regulation of forest-risk commodities must deal with this conversion to be effective in halting global deforestation. Of concern is whether land-use decisions respect the tenure and use rights of indigenous peoples and local communities as well as the environmental and other social impacts of the land conversion.

The second reality is that the global supply chains for the commodities in question are very complex. They entail the amalgamation of materials from multiple sources prior to their incorporation into products retailed in the EU, giving rise to significant traceability challenges.

The study, which outlines options to end deforestation, has been in process since 2015. The European Commission requested it to find ways to meet the EU’s commitment to halt deforestation by 2020.

The document offers three possible options:

  • Publish a new EU Communication on deforestation without requiring any new measures.
  • Introduce new, non-legislative actions as part of an Action Plan.
  • Place mandatory due diligence on companies importing and consuming forest risk commodities.

Member states are already taking actions to reduce deforestation that they cause. In 2017, France adopted a ground-breaking Vigilance Law ‘Loi de Devoir de Vigilance’ requiring French companies to establish a risk assessment, report and act on environmental and social damage within their supply chains, including subcontractors and suppliers all over the world.

In addition, EU Member States such as Germany, the Netherlands, and France are members of the Amsterdam Declaration group, which has called on the EU to adopt an Action Plan on Deforestation and Forest Degradation.

Traditionally, West Africa is the main producer of cocoa, but is struggles keep up with growing demand for cocoa, due to crop diseases, pests, extreme weather, and political instability. Over recent years, production has therefore accelerated in South America, which is associated with direct deforestation in the Amazon forest.

As cocoa plantations are often found on former forest lands, demand for this product can lead to deforestation. Fern claims that ‘around 40 per cent of Europe’s cocoa comes from former forest lands in Côte d’Ivoire’. Although cocoa can be grown in the shaded understory of tropical forests, the production under full sun exposure leads to greater short-term yields, but also to removals of tropical forest covers. Consequently, full-sun cocoa has become the dominant cultivation in some countries, such as Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

Coffee plays a more minor role in global deforestation, but its effects are still significant.

For More information see the May 2018 issue of Coffee & Cocoa International.

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