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Despite pledges to halt deforestation caused by cocoa farming, 12 months after a commitment to do so by the global chocolate industry more than half of Ivorian protected areas reviewed in a new report have seen deforestation increase rather than decline


Despite the chocolate industry’s pledge to cease sourcing cocoa linked to deforestation one year ago, a new Mighty Earth report has found that deforestation in West Africa caused by cocoa farming has continued, and in some cases has increased.

The report, Behind the Wrapper: Greenwashing in the Chocolate Industry, identifies deforestation hotspots, including in protected areas and national parks, putting some of the last refuges for forest elephants and chimpanzees at risk and threatening the stability of the regional climate.

In Côte d’Ivoire, in the period between November 2017 and September 2018, satellite analysis recorded approximately 13,748 hectares of deforestation in the cocoa-growing Southwest region alone.

In 2017, the world’s largest chocolate and cocoa companies like Hershey’s and Lindt stood beside representatives of the world’s leading producing countries, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, and committed to transform their industry, creating the Cocoa and Forests Initiative (CFI). They pledged to end deforestation linked to the production of cocoa and promised to make the production of cocoa compatible with environmental protection and human rights.

Approaching the one-year anniversary of these commitments, Mighty Earth used a combination of satellites, drones, and on-the-ground field teams to identify how – and if – these commitments are being implemented in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

The report found that more than half of the Ivorian forest areas reviewed showed an increase in their rates of deforestation since the announcement. Mighty Earth said this deforestation “violates the most fundamental tenet of the chocolate industry’s and governments’ commitment, to end new cultivation of cocoa in national parks and protected areas.”

Mighty Earth spokesperson and one of the authors of the report Etelle Higonnet said “The governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana have clearly failed to clamp down on ongoing deforestation.

“The chocolate industry has spent the last year celebrating its commitment to immediately cease deforestation from cocoa, but it continues to buy cocoa from suppliers linked to the destruction of some of West Africa’s last forests.”

Still buying cocoa linked to deforestation

Mighty Earth’s field team established that farmers who engaged in deforestation for cocoa are still able to openly sell their cocoa to chocolate companies, without repercussions. Farmers caught clearing forest for cocoa told investigators that they did not face sanctions, any cuts in supply chains, or even warnings.

In the Goin Debé classified forest, for example, not much had changed since Mighty Earth’s initial 2017 investigation. One forest had been cleared and planted with cocoa just two days before researchers arrived. The field investigation also documented children working in cocoa fields.

In the Cavally Forest Reserve, the Mighty Earth team entered a dense intact forest, but after 30 minutes walking the forest cover began to thin and cocoa trees appeared. Some were one year old or less, indicating that they had probably been planted after the framework of the CFI was announced in November 2017 at the Bonn COP.

Protected areas on verge of extinction

The organisation believes that some protected areas are on the verge of extinction in the next 10 years, if deforestation rates of the last year continue. These forests are mostly in the Southwest of Côte d’Ivoire, in the cocoa producing heartland.

“Forest in Goin Debé could vanish in 50 years, if we continue with business as usual,” it said, although it noted that some Ivorian forest had seen improvement, with deforestation rates declining thanks to the efforts of the authorities protecting forests in Tai, Nzo, Semien, Fransobi, Port Gauthier, Rapides Grah, Dassioko Sud and Nord, with Haute Dono and Bolo Ouest seeing the strongest positive changes of any area.

Apart from Goin Debe and Cavaly, deforestation rates also seemed to have risen in poorly-protected areas such as Mont Kourabahi and Niouniourou Bloc Deux. Cavaly Mont Sante, another protected area, stood out as by far the worst affected area and national park designation was not enough to save Mont Peko, where deforestation rates also increased.

 Ghana doing better than Côte d’Ivoire

Mighty Earth also studied the situation in Ghana, using remote sensing data in national parks and other protected areas in cocoa-growing regions. It found that although Ghana has made tremendous progress there is a long way to go. “Much of their forest is already gone. And satellite mapping shows that deforestation for cocoa is still continuing,” Mighty Earth said.

Overall, Mighty Earth’s report suggests that Ghana is doing better than Côte d’Ivoire and has undertaken a number of positive steps, such as beginning to overhaul its tree tenure law and committing funds to monitor deforestation. In addition, the government-controlled Ghana Cocoa Board (Cocobod) is shifting away from recommending environmentally destructive full-sun monocultures towards more sustainable shade-grown, agroforestry cocoa.

“However, despite these steps, and the strong national support for conservation and restoration, we found through satellite mapping that deforestation is still continuing,” Mighty Earth said. “In the Tinte Bepo1,Tonton and Tano Ofin forest reserves, for example, we found new deforestation, which appears to be mostly for cocoa, though not all the recently deforested land has yet been planted.” It estimates that Tano Ofin Extension lost 124 hectares of forest, Tinte Bepo lost 23 hectares and Tonton Reserve lost 18 hectares. “Because Ghana’s cocoa goes through Cocobod, cocoa grown on these deforested areas is likely to makeits way to major cocoa companies such as Produce Buying Company (PBC) and Olam,” Mighty Earth claimed.

“Mighty Earth applauded the commitments made last year, but we know that corporate pledges are only as valuable as their follow-through,” said Ms Higonnet. “We did document some areas where clear progress has been made, so we know it’s possible for companies and local authorities to make positive change. But companies like Cadbury and Sucden still refuse to accept global deforestationfree policies.

“Unacceptable deforestation and child labour are still taking place in front of us. Industry and the governments in cocoa producing countries must address the unacceptable discrepancy between commitments and implementation, and must do so urgently, before the next deforestation peak danger season – which begins in January – irreversibly damages the ecosystems of West Africa.”

Belgium adds to calls for action

In early December Belgium presented an initiative calling on the European Commission to “develop an ambitious action plan against deforestation and forest degradation before the end of the current mandate of the European Commission (mid-2019).”

It is the seventh European Union (EU) member state to do so, following a letter sent by Denmark, France, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands and Italy in November 2018. It is the first time that Belgium has made such a specific call.

“Belgium’s stance means that there is now overwhelming momentum for the Commission to act. Member states, companies and civil society expect ambitious action on deforestation caused by Europeans’ consumption – and increasingly, they agree this must include regulation,” said Julia Christian, forests campaigner at Fern.

The recommendation is part of a sustainability initiative on chocolate, set up by the Belgium government, chocolate companies and civil society, which aims to provide a fair income to cocoa producers and stop deforestation driven by cocoa production by 2030.

Due diligence regulation sought

The initiative also calls on the European Commission to propose a due diligence regulation for the cocoa sector, describing it as “particularly ripe for legislation addressing the root causes of and interlinkages between human rights violations and deforestation.”

This follows calls made at the World Cocoa Conference earlier this year, where chocolate companies agreed in a common declaration that there was a need to “strengthen human rights due diligence, including through potential regulatory measures by governments.”

“At the EU level, Belgium has real leverage to halt deforestation and human rights abuses in the cocoa sector. Today’s call for action is an important step in the right direction,” said Beatrice Wedeux, Forest Policy Officer at WWF Belgium.
Belgium is the second biggest exporter of chocolate in the world. However, in recent years Belgium has not been very involved in discussions on sustainability in the cocoa sector.

“Belgium has one of the world’s most iconic chocolate traditions, but it has been slower to take action on the human rights and environmental abuses contained in our famous truffles. We are delighted to see Belgium now taking the lead, and urge other countries to follow suit,” said Bart van Besien, Policy Officer at Oxfam- Wereldwinkels.

“Deforestation in the cocoa sector is directly linked with the extreme poverty in which cocoa farmers live. At the same time as stopping deforestation, we need to ensure that cocoa farmers make a living income,” said Mr van Besien.

Every year more than 300,000 tonnes of cocoa beans enter via the port of Antwerp. The port of Antwerp is not only important for the Belgian chocolate sector but is also an important port for cocoa beans for industry in Germany, the Netherlands, France and other EU countries.

The Belgian chocolate sector has an annual turnover of almost €5 billion. There are approximately five hundred companies active in the cocoa processing industry and chocolate sector in the country, ranging from large multinationals to Small and Medium Enterprises and artisanal chocolatiers.
Every year almost 600,000 tonnes are exported by Belgian chocolate makers to EU countries as well as the US and Japan. This makes Belgium the second largest chocolate exporter in the world.■ C&CI

This article first appeared in the January ’19 issue of C&CI, click on subscribe now if you wish to read other informative articles in the January and future issues of C&CI.

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