Ending Deforestation in the Cocoa Supply Chain

Rick Scobey, WCF President

How much rain forest is in that chocolate bar,” asked the World Resources Institute in a thoughtful blog a few years ago. Today, tackling the challenge of deforestation in the cocoa supply chain has emerged as a top priority of the global chocolate industry, cocoa-producing governments, and environmental organizations.

Over the past 50 years, over half the world’s tropical forests have been lost. A small number of agricultural commodities have been primary drivers of deforestation, notably oil palm, soy, and timber. Cocoa has also played a major role in West Africa, and there have been recent examples of large-scale logging in the Amazon for commercial cocoa development.

There is no firm data on the extent of cocoa-related deforestation, or the amount of cocoa sourced from protected or forest-classified areas. Ghana estimates that it is losing 2% of its forests each year, with half of this loss directly related to agricultural expansion. The rate of forest loss has been much higher in Côte d’Ivoire. Both Governments are committed to tackling the problem and have launched ambitious programs.

In response, the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) has launched new work with private and public partners to end deforestation in cocoa. We are focusing on four issues.

First, we need to understand the underlying drivers of deforestation for evidenced-based decision making. The first step is rigorous research and analysis to understand the extent and location of cocoa-related deforestation, and the different drivers behind the conversion of forests for cocoa. The second step is to identify lessons learned and good practices from other commodities, such as palm and coffee. However, cocoa is a very different sector, reflecting the scattered and small plot sizes, complex land tenure issues, and weak national data on forest classification in West Africa. WCF and the industry are partnering with a wide range of stakeholders to undertake the necessary analysis, research, consultations, and review of options to identify an appropriate framework of action to end deforestation.

Second, agricultural intensification is critical. Cocoa yields in West Africa are among the lowest in the world. Increasing productivity and boosting farmer income are essential for reducing pressure for agricultural encroachment into forested lands. This is exactly what the industry’s CocoaAction strategy is doing: doubling farmers’ yields through improved planting materials, fertilizer, and improved agricultural practices. In addition, for existing degraded landscapes, there is significant scope to develop mixed agro-forestry systems, where cocoa trees are grown with shade trees. This strengthens biodiversity, improves water and soil resources, and generates diversified income for farmers.

Third, we need to think through the appropriate roles of the public and private sectors. Governments need to lead on land use mapping and zoning, developing national strategies for international forestry and climate change commitments, and effective management and enforcement of protected areas. The private sector needs to promote environmentally sustainable cocoa production, with a focus on supporting increased productivity and sustainable land use of farmers. Joint public-private partnerships are needed to test and pilot innovative solutions (such as payments for environmental services, mixed agro-forestry approaches, and traceability systems), and to mobilize carbon and climate financing to bring solutions to scale.

Fourth, we need to build effective partnerships with global thought leaders who know the issues and solutions better than we do. We are currently developing a new initiative with The Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit and IDH — The Sustainable Trade Initiative, with strong support from World Bank, United Nations Environment Program, World Resources Institute, Climate Focus, Partnership for Forests, and Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, among others.

We are at an inflection point to ensure the sustainability of cocoa and the health of the planet. WCF hopes that all key stakeholders in the cocoa value chain — from farmers to consumers — will join us on this journey to ensure that there is no rain forest in your favorite chocolate bar.