Urgent confectionery sector action on stemming deforestation needed
The last few years within the confectionery industry have seen an increasing spotlight being placed on the sustainability of the cocoa sector, with farming communities at the heart of the supply chain in West Africa facing considerable challenges.
Fundamentally, the core issues have remained the same – ongoing concerns over child labour, as well as environmental impacts from deforestation, and providing sufficient support at scale to help farmers diversify their income to help lift them out of poverty.
With many working on the frontline of the farming sector reportedly earning less than $1 a day, (well below UN poverty definitions), against a backdrop of an $10 billion income gap identified by studies from Mondelez International, worsened further by the coronavirus pandemic, have placed farming communities under significant pressure.
But it is the issue of deforestation in particular that has hit headlines this week with the publication of Mighty Earth’s latest study, in which it claims significant volumes of forest, the size of cities such as Madrid or Chicago are still being lost, with the activities of chocolate and cocoa companies, along with other sectors including mining, a strong contributing factor, that are now of particularly pressing concern.
As we’ve reported on a number of occasions in the past three years, much hope had been pinned on the multi-stakeholder Cocoa and Forests Initiative signed three years ago that intended to help give greater protection to valuable natural environments in Ghana and West Africa.
But this ambitious scheme has been branded as ‘largely failing’ in its core goals, given the fact that the loss of forests is in fact increasing across both nations, placing the future of the industry in very real danger.
From speaking to many of the companies in question who have signed up to this agreement – from Mars, Mondelez, Barry Callebaut, Hershey and Ferrero, it’s clear that they’re engaging with this major topic, but the rate of activity has to be ramped up significantly, along with consistent reporting and additional transparency and due diligence measures enacted.
Th situation has been compounded by the Ivory Coast government’s own findings last year, that something in the region of 25% of all cocoa within supply chains has been farmed illegally, placing major additional stress on dwindling forest resources.
According to Mighty Earth’s estimations, which have been backed up by satellite mapping initiatives, between 80-90% of the two countries’ forests have been wiped out due to commercial activity – which offers a monumental task to recover from.
In response, the CFI scheme has in fact helped plant a total of 10.4 million trees over the past few years, so that in itself is to be welcomed, though the sheer scale of the problem is plain for all to see – doing nothing is clearly not an option. But it’s obvious that all key actors – governments, civil society and industry need to massively increase their rate of activity if the steep declines in forest levels finally take their toll and put an end to the viability of cocoa farming in the region.
Neill Barston, editor, Confectionery Production
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