Human Rights Watch and Mighty Earth have expressed concern about the way that the government in Côte d’Ivoire is handling the implementation of its new forestry policy, and the effect that policy is having on farmers.
The Ivorian government should ensure that cocoa farmers receive adequate notice and compensation if they are to be evicted from forest areas, the NGOs say.
In a joint statement, Human Rights Watch and Mighty Earth said the implementation of the forestry policy “will likely result in the evictions of thousands of small-scale cocoa farmers.”
They estimate that 1.5 to 2 million cocoa farmers live in protected forests and national parks in Côte d’Ivoire and neighbouring Ghana.
“As it moves to protect a key national resource, the Ivorian government needs to be careful not to trample of the rights of the thousands of small-scale farmers now facing eviction,” they said.
Côte d’Ivoire has seen its forest decline from 50 per cent of its territory in 1900 to less than 12 per cent in 2015. Much of the deforestation has been driven by Côte d’Ivoire’s cocoa industry – the world’s largest – with the government estimating that 30-40 per cent of cocoa comes from protected forests. Most cocoa is produced by small-scale farmers who receive only a fraction of the profits from crop sales. As a result of their extremely low incomes from cocoa farming they are often forced to cut down protected forest to try to grow more cocoa.
In June 2018, Côte d’Ivoire published a new forestry policy that would convert most of its decimated protected forests to ‘Agro-Forests,’ with multinational companies – mostly from the lucrative global chocolate industry – responsible for developing sustainable agroforestry cocoa farming methods. For the remaining forests, the Ministry for Water and Forests proposes to strictly enforce long-neglected laws banning farming and occupying protected forests and national parks.
“Although the Ivorian government has the right to reclaim forests intended for conservation, international law protects anyone who occupies land from forced evictions that do not respect the dignity and rights of those affected, regardless of where they are living,” the joint statement said.
“Past eviction operations in Côte d’Ivoire have left farmers’ families without adequate shelter, food, and education, and we have documented extortion, corruption, and physical abuses committed by government agents conducting evictions. In an October 2017 letter on the creation of Agro-Forests, we also warned that large agricultural companies often fail to protect the rights of small-scale farmers, especially when national regulations are unclear or not enforced.
“The Ivorian government is right to want to protect and rehabilitate forests,” said Human Rights Watch and Mighty Earth, “but it should ensure that evictions are only used as a last resort and farmers receive adequate notice, compensation for property and crops, and assistance finding new land or obtaining new livelihoods. Measures to protect the environment, such as the protection of protected forests, should be implemented while respecting the rights of those who live in the area.”