Nestlé joins not-for-profit group Earthworm and Ivory Coast authorities for key forest scheme

Global confectionery group Nestlé has teamed up with not-for-profit organisation Earthworm Foundation for a major Ivory Coast forest protection initiative alongside the country’s ministry of Waters and Forests. Neill Barston reports.

The partnership, which is also supported by the country’s forestry agency, will focus on restoring the Cavally Forest Reserve, which is regarded as one of the nation’s most significant natural assets.

Studies over the past few years have revealed that around 75% of the Ivory Coast’s 7,700 square miles of forests are now considered heavily degraded – with deforestation reportedly standing at around 75%.

According to online monitoring organisation Global Forest Watch, its studies in 2018 found that Ivory Coast had seen among the biggest percentage rise in deforestation – with much of this having occurred during the past 60 years. This has included a significant volume of illegal farming of land, but as studies including by the University of Ohio have found in the past five years that simply enforcing foot patrols of forest areas has been key to a notable reduction in such practices.

As Earthworm noted, in 1960, the country had 16 million hectares of forest, but that area shrunk to just 3.5 million hectares by 2015. It is estimated that 60 percent of this forest loss has been caused by smallholder agriculture, a large part linked to cocoa production as forests create the essential climate needed to grow cocoa. There are presently believed to be around  a million cocoa farmers who are reliant on the crop.

Industry observers have also expressed further concern in the Ivory Coast over the introduction of legal codes over the past two years for forest management which effectively results in this passing into the stewardship of major cocoa companies. However, the sector has responded to such fears with an insistence that it has placed responsible farming as a major priority, as with the intergovernmental agreement known as the Cocoa and Forests Initiative.

As regards the latest venture in the country, Confectionery Production previously reported, last September, Nestlé announced its ambition to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and this latest initiative is set to built on that plan.

“When it comes to all the commitments being made by companies on climate, biodiversity and forests, the real challenge is to put words into action,” said Earthworm Foundation’s CEO Bastien Sachet. “We are happy that Nestlé is walking the talk with an ambitious plan to protect and regenerate this key forest landscape in Cavally.”

As Earthworm noted, the Cavally Forest Reserve is one of 234 classified forests in Ivory Coast. It is located in the Zagné area of the Cavally region – in the west of the country – it covers an area of 67,593 hectares and is home to endangered species such as chimpanzees, forest elephants and pygmy hippopotamuses. These populations have, according to sector studies, been driven to near extinction in the region owing to the loss of natural habitat.

Nestlé’s Cocoa Plan manager, Darrell High, added: “We are delighted to kick this project off with the government of Ivory Coast and the technical expertise of Earthworm Foundation. Our contribution to the restoration and reforestation of the Cavally Forest is part of our commitment to make sure that no cocoa we buy is linked to deforestation and our pledge to achieve zero net emissions by 2050. We believe that a sustainable production of cocoa that benefits local communities and the environment, and spurs economic development, is possible. Collaboration with all key stakeholders will be key to achieve this vision, and this project is a first step in that direction.”

As the organisations explained, over the next three years, Nestlé, the Ivory Coast government and Earthworm will implement a plan to protect this important reserve. At the heart of this work is forest restoration and supporting farmer livelihoods to be more resilient. They will work with farmers to understand how they can establish productive, well-run farms, and identify suitable land and alternative livelihoods that protect and promote the interests of both the environment and the people who earn a living there. This is perceived as being vital to the success of the project.

In 2014, the Ivorian government committed to turning 20 percent of its territory to forest by 2030. As part of this work, the Ivory Coast forestry agency Sodefor began a partnership with Starling (a satellite technology partnership between Earthworm Foundation and Airbus) to establish an accurate base map of the Cavally Forest Reserve.

“Using accurate satellite data allowed us to identify forest degradation at the earliest stages and better target our interventions, which is key when looking after such a big area,” said Mamadou Sangaré, Sodefor’s director general. Since Starling data was used, deforestation in the reserve reduced by 83%.

“While we are excited about the increased efforts to protect and restore this critical forest, we realise that much more needs to be done. We see that precise spatial monitoring data – together with a trust and value-creation approach with surrounding farming communities – is the way to achieve effective forest protection and restoration. And we believe that this approach can be adapted and applied to other forest reserves beyond just the Cavally Forest Reserve,” said Gerome Tokpa, regional head of West Africa at Earthworm Foundation.

Engaging a broad range of stakeholders is equally important to forest regeneration and driving this work. Earthworm’s cocoa lead Renzo Verne explained: “We look forward to engaging rubber companies and brands, cocoa traders and processors, and others who are directly or indirectly connected to this ecosystem through their supply chain to make a difference for Ivorian forests. Working with other groups will be important to achieving success – such as IDH (The Sustainable Trade Initiative), ICRAF (World Agroforestry), local organisations and institutions who are also active in the wider Cavally landscape and who share our vision of protecting this precious forest.”

“The Ivorian government has recently adopted a national policy for the protection, rehabilitation and extension of forests, which gives pride of place to the private sector. This partnership will strengthen our commitment to fight against deforestation caused in part by cocoa in Ivory Coast, strengthening the resilience of communities and cocoa producers. I wish for success in its implementation,” said Alain Richard Donwahi, Minister of Water and Forests.


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