TODAY’S STUDY: How Chocolate Threatens The Environment
Chocolate’s Dark Secret; How the Cocoa Industry Destroys National Parks
Etelle Higonnet, Marisa Bellantonio, and Glenn Hurowitz, September 2017 (Mighty Earth)
Chocolate is everywhere. It is the afternoon pick-me-up, the sensual indulgence, the accoutrement to seduction. Lovers gift truffles, skiers sip on rich hot chocolate, and connoisseurs savor the tiniest, richest bite of single origin dark chocolate. The ancient Aztecs believed that chocolate was an aphrodisiac, and the emperor Montezuma was reported to gorge himself on chocolate in advance of his trysts.
But chocolate is truly a guilty pleasure. Thousands of miles away from the American and European homes where the majority of the world’s chocolate is devoured, lies the denuded landscape of West Africa’s Ivory Coast. The nation is the world’s largest producer of cocoa, the raw material for chocolate. As its name suggests, elephants once abundantly roamed the rainforests of Ivory Coast. Today’s reality is much different: many of the country’s national parks and conservation lands have been cleared of their forest to make way for cocoa operations to feed demand from large chocolate companies like Nestlé, Cadbury, and Mars.
Mighty Earth conducted an in-depth global investigation into the cocoa that provides the raw material for chocolate. These companies purchase the cocoa for their chocolate bars from large agribusiness companies like Olam, Cargill, and Barry Callebaut, who together control around half of global cocoa trade.
Most strikingly, the investigation found that for years the world’s major chocolate companies have been buying cocoa grown through the illegal deforestation of national parks and other protected forests, in addition to driving extensive deforestation outside of protected areas. In the world’s two largest cocoa producing countries, Ivory Coast and Ghana, the market created by the chocolate industry has been the primary driver behind the destruction of forests.
Many of Ivory Coast’s national parks and protected areas have been entirely or almost entirely cleared of forest and replaced with cocoa growing operations. In neighboring Ghana, the situation is similar: according to our analysis, 291,254 acres of protected areas were cleared between 2001 and 2014. In that same time, Ghana lost 7,000 square kilometers of forest, or about 10 percent of its entire tree cover; approximately one quarter of that deforestation was connected to the chocolate industry. Without action, Ghana stands to lose all remaining forests outside its national parks in the next decade. Chimpanzees, elephants, and other wildlife populations have been decimated by the conversion of forests in both countries to cocoa; in Ivory Coast, only 200-400 elephants remain from an original population of hundreds of thousands.
Now, the chocolate industry is bringing its unsustainable model of production to new forest frontiers in other parts of Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. Fortunately, the world’s largest chocolate companies have begun to publicly acknowledge their responsibility to address deforestation. In early 2017, 34 leading chocolate companies joined Prince Charles to pledge that they would announce a plan in November 2017 to end deforestation in the industry. However, they provided no details about their plan. It may be premature to be optimistic, as previous cocoa sustainability initiatives have been too weak to produce significant industry-wide results. This report shows that the chocolate industry must immediately end its illegal and destructive practices, remediate past damage, and take concrete action to ensure that its mistakes in Ivory Coast are not repeated…
A Sweeter Future?
The tragedy of this deforestation is that it is entirely avoidable. Instead of driving investment in expansion into forests or national parks, cocoa companies should be focusing their resources on shade-grown cocoa production and yield improvement.
In West Africa, the chocolate industry has mostly relied on clearing forests and growing cocoa in full sun to boost short-run productivity. However, shade-grown cocoa (cocoa grows naturally under the forest canopy) promotes nutrient cycling, erosion control, water regulation, nitrogen fixing, crop pollination, and reduced weed growth. And shade-grown systems can actually have higher average productivity over the full life cycle of a cocoa tree. Additionally, large cocoa companies can do more to improve productivity through better water distribution and grafting techniques, among other best practices.
To the extent that any additional expansion on new land is still necessary, there are more than 300 million acres of previously deforested lands across the tropics where crops like cocoa can be grown without threatening new deforestation. Large parts of the palm oil, paper, sugar, soy, and rubber industries have adopted a strict methodology, known as the High Carbon Stock Approach, to target development onto degraded land. Cocoa and chocolate companies including Cargill, Olam, Nestle, Mondelez, Mars, Ferrero Rocher and Hershey already apply that criterion to their palm oil purchases. Deforestation for cocoa is no more acceptable than deforestation for other commodities, which is why these companies should immediately extend their High Carbon Stock conservation commitments to cocoa as well.
Based on similar situations in other commodities, the cost for these improvements is unlikely to cost more than a few additional cents for every chocolate bar. Indeed, companies that shift to deforestation-free agricultural production often identified significant efficiencies that allowed them to increase profitability. Many traders shifting to sustainable production also attracted increased market share from manufacturers willing to pay for environmentally responsible raw material supplies.
Several chocolate companies have launched small-scale sustainability initiatives through the years; however, as this investigation shows, those initiatives have been inadequate to stop even the most egregious industry practices like sourcing from legally protected forests. Even certification programs that chocolate companies use to promote their products as sustainable were found to have mostly failed to make a significant difference on a national level, according to a 2016 study by the Bureau for the Appraisal of Social Impacts for Citizen Information (BASIC).
Fortunately, many major cocoa companies are beginning to acknowledge the need for more comprehensive action. In the first half of 2017, Prince Charles launched an initiative with 34 of the world’s biggest chocolate and cocoa companies to end deforestation. However, the companies have not provided any details about their plans, which are due out later this year. For instance, they have not committed yet to ensuring that any future expansion is done without deforestation in order to protect High Carbon Stock landscapes or what they’ll do in already denuded areas like the Ivory Coast’s national parks and protected areas.
The Ivorian government has also stated its strong interest in supporting conservation despite their past practices. The government has joined the United Nations program on reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (UN-REDD) and created a national program on climate change.5 It has also committed to producing zero deforestation cocoa as of 2017 through the Cocoa Carboneutre initiative, but this has not been realized nor has it achieved any tangible results on the ground.
Although promises on paper have yet to translate into a reality of forest protection, there is room for optimism that the Ivorian government would support robust industry action in the immediate future to save forests. The Ghanaian government has also shown greater willingness to protect forests than in the past…