Chocolate companies must intensify action, amid report claims of ‘near record’ deforestation in Ghana and Ivory Coast

Forests in key cocoa growing areas of Ghana and Ivory Coast are being lost at a levels equivalent to areas the size of major cities such as Madrid, Seoul or Chicago, according to claims made through latest satellite mapping research from the Mighty Earth organisation, reports Neill Barston.

The findings from the charitable environmental group are revealed in a new study calling for an urgent sector response, asserting that the much-anticipated government and industry collaborative Cocoa and Forests Initiative (CFI) had ‘largely failed’ over the past three years its objectives to help protect and manage key natural landscapes within the two West African nations.

This is despite notable sustainability programmes previously reported by Confectionery Production, that have focused on delivering progress through combined efforts of major confectionery companies, governments and cvil society organisations. These have been undertaken against wider challenges faced within the two west African regions, including findings from the Ivory Coast’s Ministry of Water and Forests, which estimated late last year that 20-30% of all cocoa production in the country (around 2 million tonnes), was being produced illegally, further worsening deforestation rates, as well as major issues with illegal mining operations that have further damaged key forest areas.

As Mighty Earth estimates, the nations are estimated to have lost between 80-90% of their forested areas in the past few decades, and according to the charity’s findings – which have been attained through advanced satellite mapping, significant volumes of trees are being lost in areas of these key countries driving the cocoa industry serving the confectionery sector.

The organisation’s investigation and subsequent critical report titled “Sweet Nothings: How the Chocolate Industry has Failed to Honour Promises to End Deforestation in Cocoa Supply Chains”  claimed that since the CFI was first unveiled with its action plans in January 2019, Ivory Coast lost 19,421 hectares (ha) – 74.9 sq. mi. – (2%) of its forest, while Ghana has lost an astonishing 39,497 ha – 152.5 sq. mi. – of forest with a ‘staggeringly high’ rate of deforestation of 3.9%.

As Confectionery Production has previous reported, a number of major chocolate companies, as well as other groups including, Mars, Mondelez, Ferrero, Hershey, Cargill and Barry Callebaut, Olam, Lindt & Sprüngli Group, Nestlé, General Mills, Cémoi and Puratos, had all backed the scheme – with a progress report last summer noting that 10.4 million trees had in fact been planted as part of the initiative in response to deforestation associated with industrial activity.

“This report unwrapped the unsavory side of the cocoa industry and shows the urgent need to break the link between chocolate products and deforestation,” said Glenn Hurowitz, CEO of Mighty Earth, the global advocacy organisation working to defend a living planet. “Chocolate companies like Nestlé, Hershey’s, Mondelez and Mars need to stop making empty promises and start working together with governments in the CFI to establish an open and effective joint deforestation monitoring mechanism this year”.

The organisation, which campaigns for wider environmental protection said that Ivory Coast and Ghana are estimated to have lost 80% to 90% of their forested area over the last few decades, in large part to make way for cocoa farms. Through a combination of satellite data analysis and on-the-ground field investigations, Mighty Earth reported that it had uncovered evidence of ongoing tropical forest clearance for cocoa. This includes deforestation in designated protected areas that provide vital habitats for endangered wildlife – such as chimpanzees and pygmy hippos. These forests are also critical carbon sinks, that it said were regarded as being vital for slowing both the climate crisis and biodiversity loss.

In its hard-hitting report, the organisation said that levels of deforestation remain at near record highs, with a combined area of tropical forest lost in the two countries equivalent to an area the size of the cities of Madrid, Seoul, or Chicago.

Furthermore, the report claimed that in Ghana, 2020 tree cover loss countrywide was 370% higher since January 2019 than it was between 2001-2010, and 150% higher than the average tree cover loss between 2011-2019.

Average countrywide tree cover loss in Côte d’Ivoire has been 230% higher in the period since January 2019 than it was between 2001-2017, and 340% higher than the average loss during the 2000s. Notably, the report said deforestation is still being found in protected areas in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, with satellite data analysis and observations from Mighty Earth’s field investigation in Ivory Coast revealing that cocoa expansion is playing a major role in this encroachment.

“All of this devastation is entirely preventable and should have been addressed long ago. Meanwhile, forests continue to disappear, endangered species die, and communities suffer,” said Souleymane Fofana, General Coordinator of the Ivorian Human Rights organisations (RAIDH). “The cocoa industry has the same tools and far more resources than Mighty Earth to track and prevent deforestation, but limited willpower and lack of transparency and accountability continue to be the biggest roadblocks to progress.”

Report recommendations

In its conclusions, the report recommended that chocolate companies, cocoa traders and governments pool information relating to cocoa supply chains, linked to satellite data to urgently established this year. Mighty Earth believed this would go some way to stemming further forest encroachment in Ghana and Ivory Coast. Taking this further, in its view, the CFI should report publicly its progress and aim to achieve zero new deforestation within two years.

The organisation called on chocolate companies to renew their efforts in focusing on restoring forests, targeting at least 50% of their supplies from agroforestry sources by 2025, working with cooperatives and government agencies. It also highlighted an urgent need for greater definition of protected forest areas, and advocated additional support for smallholder farmers – who make up the bulk of the industry, in furthering schemes to promote diversification of farming.

As recently reported, the EU is presently exploring due diligence supply legislation, which Mighty Earth believed would be vital for governments within Europe, Japan and the US, which form some of the largest confectionery markets in the world.

“The Cocoa and Forests Initiative has lots of potential but currently is not living up to it. It promised so much but is failing to deliver. Cocoa and chocolate companies have a duty to protect the environment or risk losing the commodity they depend on forever because the current situation is unsustainable,” said Obed Owusu-Addai, Managing Campaigner at EcoCare Ghana.

Confectionery Production approached the World Cocoa Foundation, for comment, with the organisation having worked considerably with a number of major confectionery companies who are among its membership, including driving the frameworks for action surrounding the CFI forests scheme. However, the body said it was unable to offer a response to the report’s deforestation findings.







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