The signs of deforestation are easy to spot. Salam Sawadougou works his four-hectare plot In Côte d’Ivoire’s Mount Tia protected forest, where farming is prohibited. Here, the huge grey stumps of ancient trees are all that remains of the forest.
Mr. Sawadougou says, “I burned it, little by little.” He explains that his cocoa needs full sun to grow. Many farmers believe that recently cleared land produces bigger beans, so they cut down the trees one by one, planting more cocoa as they go.
In recent years, the annual rate of deforestation in protected areas has doubled, and in both Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, it is growing twice as fast as deforestation in unprotected areas.
Middlemen, known as pisteurs, buy the dried cocoa beans and transport them to the port of San Pedro in southwest Côte d’Ivoire or to Abidjan, the economic capital of the country. There, international traders such as Olam, Cargill, and Barry Callebaut buy the beans and ship them around the world to be transformed into chocolate.
Mighty Earth is an American environmental protection NGO. The organization published a report in September highlighting the extent of deforestation due to cocoa production.
Researchers interviewed 70 chocolate industry companies, including Mars, Hershey, Ferrero, and other big players. None denied having bought cocoa from protected areas.
The report also accused Ivorian authorities of being complicit or ineffective at times. The Mighty Earth report notes that protected areas often encompass whole cities, complete with cocoa warehouses, shops, schools, and thousands of residents.
SODEFOR is Côte d’Ivoire’s government-funded agency in charge of protecting forests. According to the agency, 40% of Ivorian cocoa is grown in protected areas. NGOs such as Human Rights Watch report that SODEFOR has forcefully evicted some cocoa growers from the protected forests where they lived, leading to tensions and rights violations.
Côte d’Ivoire is losing its forests at a faster rate than any other African country. Less than 4% of the country is currently covered in rainforest, down from 25%. According to the Mighty Earth report, the growing global demand for chocolate means that, if nothing is done, there will be no Ivorian forest left by 2030.
Mighty Earth is calling on the cocoa industry to take its share of responsibility for preventing an ecological disaster in Côte d’Ivoire.
Richard Scobey is president of the World Cocoa Foundation, which represents the largest producers of cocoa and chocolate. He says companies are involved in the fight against deforestation.
He says: “We’ve known about this problem for years. Companies have already taken action by investing in cocoa traceability, working on mixed agroforestry with more environmentally-friendly plantations, and pushing for the restoration of certain areas.”
Mr. Scobey says 35 chocolate companies have launched a new partnership with the Ivorian government to end deforestation in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. The program will be announced in November at the 23rd Conference of Parties to the United Nations climate change convention.
He adds that deforestation also has a social dimension. Mr. Scobey explains: “We must respect the rights of hundreds of thousands of cocoa farmers and their families who depend on these forests…. Intensification of sustainable agriculture is an essential step to reduce pressure on protected forests.”
Up to 70% of the world’s cocoa is produced by two million farmers in a belt that stretches from Sierra Leone to Cameroon. But Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are the giants, the world’s first and second biggest producers. They are also facing the most rapid deforestation.
In central Côte d’Ivoire’s Mount Sassandra protected forest, farmers run away when they catch sight of visitors, aware that their business is illegal. But these farmers are not the ones earning vast profits from chocolate. Many live in poverty, often exploited and underpaid for their work. Most cannot even afford that basic luxury in the west: a bar of chocolate.
“It’s white people who eat chocolate, not us,” one says.
This article is adapted from several sources:
“Côte d’Ivoire: du cacao illégal fourni aux grands noms du chocolat” published by RFI. To read the original article (in French), please see: http://www.rfi.fr/afrique/20170913-exclu-rfi-cote-ivoire-cacao-illegal-fourni-grands-noms-chocolat-mighty-earth
“Cacao ivoirien : une ONG accuse les grands groupes de favoriser la déforestation” published by Jeune Afrique. To read the original article (in French), please see: http://www.jeuneafrique.com/474040/societe/cacao-ivoirien-une-ong-accuse-les-grands-groupes-de-favoriser-la-deforestation/
“Enquête : Les forêts classées de l’Ouest en voie de disparition” published by Avenue 225. To read the original article (in French), please see: http://www.avenue225.com/enquete-les-forets-classees-de-l%E2%80%99ouest-en-voie-de-disparition
“Chocolate industry drives rainforest disaster in Ivory Coast” published by The Guardian. To read the original article, please see: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/13/chocolate-industry-drives-rainforest-disaster-in-ivory-coast
Photo by James Roberts / Panoramio