Studies claim only 45% of Ivory Coast cocoa crops can be traced to buyers

Sector concerns have been raised in the wake of a new industry study on transparency and traceability of cocoa supply chains in Ivory Coast, revealing that only 45% of crops can be tracked back to the original buyer, writes Neill Barston.

The research from IOP Publishing, part of the Institute of Physics, reportedly found that the remaining 55% of cocoa in the country cannot be tracked, as it is reportedly indirectly sourced by traders from intermediaries or exported by groups that disclose no information about their sourcing.

According to the science-group’s findings, while revenue from the industry is responsible for around a third of export income, the sector is also said to be driving deforestation due to ‘weak enforcement of land use regulations’. Furthermore, the IOP noted that the Ivory Coast had lost 80% of its forested areas over the past 60 year, with its latest study showing that between 2000-2019 almost half of the deforestation and forest degradation in the country was due to cocoa, replacing each year an area larger than New York City.

As previously reported by Confectionery Production, the Ivory Coast, as with neighbouring Ghana, has also faced significant problems with illegal mining, known regionally as ‘galamsy’ which has further impacted on the potential for progress within the cocoa sector. However, the sector is continuing its work with the Cocoa and Forests Initiative (CFI) which drew a large proportion of the cocoa and confectionery trade together targeting greater transparency and prevention of deforestation during the past five years.

This is set to be augmented by separate initiatives within the EU, geared towards delivering due diligence legislation, placing the onus on importers of a wide range of products, including cocoa, to make consider environmental impact and human rights considerations within supply chains.

Moreover, IOP noted that in response to public pressure, many chocolate companies have made investment in tracing the origins of their cocoa supplies, committing to zero-deforestation policies. However, it asserted that success of these initiatives had been limited. In its view, this was due to the fact there is often a breakdown of records between the cocoa production and its transportation. This makes it difficult to assess where companies source their cocoa from and what progress they are making toward their zero deforestation pledges.

Cécile Renier, lead author of the study, said: “As Easter approaches, the world’s largest chocolate consumer, the European Union, is nearing the peak of its chocolate season. It is one of the busiest times of year for the chocolate industry, which increasingly sells its products to consumers as ‘ethical’ or ‘sustainable.’ But given the extremely limited tracing in the industry, consumers are not being shown the full picture about where their chocolate comes from, and the serious sustainability issues attached to it.”

Led by researchers from Earth and Life Institute at UCLouvain, Belgium, the new study shows that high rates of untraced cocoa sourcing can be found along the border with Liberia, where forests are under threat by cocoa expansion from Ivory Coast.

In these regions, 80-100% of exported cocoa is not traceable to its first buyer – let alone to its origin farm. This falls short of the forthcoming requirements under the EU due-diligence legislation, cloaking the sustainability risks associated with cocoa products.

As part of the Trase initiative, the research team utilised publicly available datasets for Côte d’Ivoire’s 2019 cocoa exports and land use to link cocoa production and its associated deforestation to specific companies and markets. The study is one of the first to lift the opacity surrounding the cocoa sector in West Africa, showing that it is possible to trace at least some of the cocoa exports, and attribute impacts such as deforestation to specific traders and importing countries.

“A lack of transparency and traceability within the industry means that this deforestation is going unchecked and unaccounted for. Even traders who disclose their supplying cooperatives can greatly strengthen their level of transparency: the disclosed data is incomplete, irregular, non-standardised or never updated,” says Renier. “Above all, companies must go beyond the traceability of their own supply chains. Much greater means are needed to enforce land use policies and landscape initiatives. Coupled with transparent national traceability systems and robust deforestation monitoring, this would ensure effective forest conservation, and achieve true sustainability in the cocoa supply chain.”

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