German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa tackles major deforestation issues

The German Initiative on Sustainable Cocoa (GISCO) presented industry leaders with key options for creating a deforestation-free cocoa sector, at this year’s Anuga trade fair in Cologne.

As the organisation explained, climate change has arrived in the public consciousness, and as such,  conservation of forests, also in cocoa production, is a key factor for this.

Between 1988 and 2008, two to three million hectares of forest were destroyed worldwide for the cultivation of cocoa, mainly in West-Africa. “The
cocoa sector must no longer be held responsible for deforestation,” said Wolf Kropp-Büttner, Board Chair of GISCO. “The cocoa sector must contribute to ensuring that the forest is preserved and protected,” explaining that this is  also earmarked in the organisation’s new twelve goals.

Dr Eva Ursula Müller, head of department at the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), is a forestry scientist herself. She outlined the challenges as well as the steps already being taken by the German government.

Measures against deforestation are crucial to this and were also recorded, for example, in the 10-Point Plan for a Sustainable Cocoa Sector. “A possible increase in productivity must not come at the expense of the environment,” said Müller. At the same time, she referred to the important role of consumers and their purchasing decisions.

“Even if”, as Müller pointed out, “the price is all too often the decisive factor at the supermarket checkout”. It must be guaranteed that the supply chains of European companies are free from environmental degradation, child labour and forced labour. “The European Parliament has been vocal on calling the EU to come up with legislation on sustainability due diligence obligations on companies”, the Greens/EFA MEP Heidi Hautala said.

She highlighted that also companies have started recognising the need for a level playing field in a fragmented regulatory environment, and to make sustainability the norm in the industry. “What has been achieved so far in terms of child labor and deforestation is insufficient,”
Hautala said. “There is still a giant leap to be made here.”

Julia Christian, of the forest protection non-governmental organization Fern, also advocated an EU regulation requiring companies to ensure they are not importing products linked to deforestation.

“France, Denmark and Netherlands recently called the EU to look into such measures. Germany has so far been too absent from this discussion”, Christian criticised the German stance.

Christian as well as some of the other speakers pointed out that it needs also the cooperation with the producing countries. One example of a commitment to forest conservation is the Cocoa & Forests Initiative (CFI), which is also supported by ten GISCO members. Ethan Budiansky of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) sees as essential the joint action of all members and a widespread extension of the initiative. 34 leading chocolate companies and food traders as well as three cocoa-producing countries, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Colombia, have joined forces in the CFI. Initiated at the climate conference COP 23 in 2017 in Bonn (Germany), the CFI managed in only two years to commit all signatories to individual action plans with concrete targets for action, said Ethan Budiansky of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF).

One million farms in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana have already been mapped, which aims to achieve 100% traceability of the cocoa. “This will ensure that the cocoa does not come from protected areas,” said Budiansky. Another important forest protection measure is the replanting of trees on destroyed areas and the establishment of agroforestry systems, as well as training for about one million cocoa farmers to sensitise them on the needs of forest conservation.

Jérôme Abroba Aké, Director of the Ministry for Forests and Water of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire – the most important producer of cocoa imported to
Germany – presented the new forest law as solution approach of the Ivorian government. The Ivorian forest areas have decreased to 11 percent of its former area.

Cocoa, along with palm oil and rubber, is the main reason for this and is cultivated today on 15 percent of the country’s surface as the most important
export commodity. According to Aké, this was caused by a strong economic boom in the 1990s. With a new forestry law, the government of Côte d’Ivoire wants to achieve a 20 percent share of forest area as a long-term goal.

In Cologne, Aké also promoted support for the Ivorian concern. On the one hand to the cocoa industry and cocoa traders: “As concessionaires, they can acquire land-use rights and within these rights support and implement the legal requirements for the forest conservation,” said Aké

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