West’s ap­petite for cho­co­late dev­as­tates Africa’s forests

The Guardian - - FRONT PAGE - Ruth Ma­clean Ivory Coast

The world’s cho­co­late in­dus­try is be­ing blamed for ac­cel­er­at­ing de­for­esta­tion in west Africa, de­spite pledges by the some of the world’s lead­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers to end the de­struc­tion, which is tak­ing place on a dev­as­tat­ing scale.

Co­coa traders who sell to Mars, Nestlé, Mon­delez and other big brands buy beans grown il­le­gally in­side pro­tected ar­eas in Ivory Coast, where rain­for­est cover has fallen by more than 80% since 1960.

Il­le­gal prod­uct is mixed in with “clean” beans in the sup­ply chain, mean­ing that Mars bars, Fer­rero Rocher choco­lates and Milka bars could all be tainted with “dirty” co­coa. As much as 40% of the world’s co­coa comes from Ivory Coast.

The Guardian trav­elled across Ivory Coast and doc­u­mented rain­forests cleared for co­coa plan­ta­tion; vil­lages and farm­ers oc­cu­py­ing sup­pos­edly pro­tected na­tional parks; en­force­ment of­fi­cials tak­ing kick­backs for turn­ing a blind eye to in­frac­tions; and trad­ing mid­dle­men who sup­ply the big brands in­dif­fer­ent to the prove­nance of beans.

When ap­proached for comment, Mars, Mon­delez and Nestlé, and traders Cargill and Barry Calle­baut, did not deny the spe­cific al­le­ga­tion that il­le­gal de­for­esta­tion co­coa had en­tered their sup­ply chains. All said they were work­ing hard to erad­i­cate the com­mod­ity from their prod­ucts.

Up to 70% of the world’s co­coa is pro­duced by 2 mil­lion farm­ers in a belt that stretches from Sierra Leone to Cameroon, but Ivory Coast and Ghana are the world’s first and sec­ond big­gest pro­duc­ers.

They are also the big­gest vic­tims of de­for­esta­tion. Ivory Coast is los­ing its forests at a faster rate than any other African coun­try – less than 4% of the coun­try is cov­ered in rain­for­est. Once, one quar­ter of the coun­try was.

The bal­loon­ing global de­mand for cho­co­late means that, if noth­ing is done, by 2030 there will be no for­est left, ac­cord­ing to the en­vi­ron­men­tal group Mighty Earth, which to­day pub­lishes an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into de­for­esta­tion caused by cho­co­late.

Ev­i­dence of de­for­esta­tion is not hard to find. In­side the Mount Tia pro­tected for­est, Salam Sawadougou, a Burk­in­abé farmer, is hack­ing a yel­low co­coa pod off one of his plants in a four hectare (10 acre) plot. Here, the grey stumps of enor­mous an­cient trees are all that is left of the for­est.

“I burned it lit­tle by lit­tle,” Sawadougou says, ex­plain­ing that his co­coa needed full sun to grow. Farm­ers gen­er­ally be­lieve that re­cently de­for­ested soil pro­duces the big­gest beans, so they re­move the trees one by one, plant­ing more co­coa as they go. In re­cent years, the an­nual rate

of de­for­esta­tion in­side parks has dou­bled, and in both Ivory Coast and Ghana it is go­ing twice as fast as de­for­esta­tion in un­pro­tected ar­eas.

Co­coa agri­cul­ture is a mon­ster that will even­tu­ally eat it­self, sci­en­tists say. Farm­ers will miss the trees they cut and burned down for the very rea­son that their shade would have pro­tected their co­coa plants from in­creas­ingly parched, dry sea­sons.

When ap­proached for comment, most big com­pa­nies ac­knowl­edged the prob­lem of de­for­esta­tion for in­creas­ing co­coa pro­duc­tion and said they were com­mit­ted to tack­ling it.

Barry Parkin, chief sus­tain­abil­ity of­fi­cer at Mars, said: “We are com­mit­ted to iden­ti­fy­ing the best ways to end de­for­esta­tion and for­est degra­da­tion in the global co­coa sup­ply chain.

“We know that sus­tain­able co­coa is too big a chal­lenge for any one com­pany to ad­dress. That is why we are part­ner­ing with oth­ers in the in­dus­try to try and drive change at a global scale.”

Nestlé said it was “op­posed to the de­for­esta­tion of rain­forests and peat­lands around the world,” adding: “Nestlé re­gards it as one of the most se­ri­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges fac­ing the world.”

It noted that in 2010 it had pledged that none of its prod­ucts should be as­so­ci­ated with de­for­esta­tion, and said that it sup­ported in­ter­na­tional moves to se­cure zero net de­for­esta­tion by 2020.

Mon­delez’s Cathy Pi­eters said that de­for­esta­tion in sup­ply chains was some­thing the com­pany was ac­tively try­ing to root out. “We all recog­nise the ur­gency, and we all ac­knowl­edge the is­sue,” she said. “As an in­di­vid­ual com­pany we have prob­a­bly worked the long­est on this. We are ex­actly in the mid­dle of that process, be­cause of the ur­gency and the need for a so­lu­tion.”

Her­shey said it was com­mit­ted to sourc­ing 100% cer­ti­fied, sus­tain­ably sourced co­coa by 2020. “We take con­cerns about de­for­esta­tion and for­est degra­da­tion very se­ri­ously,” said spokesman Jeff Beck­man.

Fer­rero Rocher did not re­spond to re­quest for comment. The co­coa traders Cargill said: “We have made a pledge to end de­for­esta­tion – and we are com­mit­ted to de­liv­er­ing.” The com­pany added that it was aim­ing to en­sure that more than 70% of its Ivory Coast prod­uct would be third-party ver­i­fied or cer­ti­fied by the end of next year.

Barry Calle­baut, an­other trad­ing firm, pointed out its com­mit­ment to be 100% de­for­esta­tion free by 2025. It added: “For any global com­pany/in­dus­try com­mit­ment to suc­ceed, the bound­aries of the na­tional parks and forêt classée [clas­si­fied forests] need to be re­drawn or re­con­firmed for an area equiv­a­lent to its orig­i­nal des­ig­na­tion. The re­drawn or re­con­firmed bound­aries need to be legally en­forced by the govern­ments.”

Many co­coa in­dus­try play­ers – although not all – have pledged to end de­for­esta­tion and for­est degra­da­tion in a col­lec­tive state­ment pub­lished in June. But this is a vague prom­ise to try harder, while the real test will be the con­tents of the frame­work for ac­tion pre­sented at the UN’s Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change in Novem­ber.

Some of the farm­ers grow­ing co­coa in­side pro­tected ar­eas have been liv­ing there for decades, and how to re­set­tle them and find them a new means of mak­ing a liv­ing is one of the ma­jor prob­lems that the gov­ern­ment and the in­dus­try need to work out in Novem­ber.

None of the com­pa­nies said they would sup­port a mora­to­rium on de­for­esta­tion co­coa, de­spite the fact that one on soy worked well to stop de­for­esta­tion in the Amazon. Nei­ther did they say they would com­mit to 100% shade-grown co­coa.

Gov­ern­ment com­mit­ment to pro­tect­ing na­tional forests is also key. “Com­pa­nies alone can’t solve this, and the gov­ern­ment alone can’t solve this,” says Richard Scobey of the World Co­coa Foun­da­tion.

The sit­u­a­tion in­side the coun­try’s 231 clas­si­fied forests is even worse than in the parks, and this has partly to do with the dif­fer­ent au­thor­i­ties that run them.

The gov­ern­ment-funded agency pro­tect­ing forests is called Sode­for; the state parks author­ity is the OIPR (Of­fice Ivorien des Parcs et Réserves). Nei­ther is do­ing its job. In the Mara­houé park, the Guardian found re­peated ex­am­ples of kick­backs and rack­e­teer­ing by OIPR of­fi­cials. In the Mount Tia clas­si­fied for­est, the top Sode­for of­fi­cial, Karma Bakary, was asked how long it would take for the for­est to grow back to its for­mer size. “One to two years,” he said. Un­der fur­ther ques­tion­ing he upped his estimate to 10 years. It is also the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the Con­seil Café Ca­cao, the state reg­u­la­tor for cof­fee and co­coa, to over­see the in­dus­try, check­ing the qual­ity of the co­coa, en­sur­ing the right prices are be­ing paid, and see­ing that none of it is grown us­ing child labour or in pro­tected ar­eas.

Re­spond­ing to the Guardian, the Con­seil Café Ca­cao said that it was com­mit­ted to “good gov­er­nance and ethics” in its ac­tiv­i­ties and pointed to a pro­gramme it started, Co­coa, Friend of the For­est. There is lit­tle ev­i­dence of the pro­gramme on the ground.

Pri­vately, ac­tivists have been warned not to touch co­coa, the back­bone of the coun­try’s econ­omy which reaches the high­est lev­els of so­ci­ety. Those who do can get in to se­ri­ous trou­ble. In 2004 GuyAn­dré Ki­ef­fer, a French-Cana­dian jour­nal­ist work­ing on a story about co­coa and cor­rup­tion, dis­ap­peared. He is be­lieved to have been killed.

The de­struc­tion of Mount Tia started in 2004, dur­ing the first Ivo­rian civil war, but its much larger neigh­bour, Mount Sas­san­dra for­est, re­mained al­most un­touched un­til 2011, long af­ter that con­flict ended. In Mount Sas­san­dra, farm­ers run away at the sight of vis­i­tors, aware that their busi­ness is il­le­gal. But these farm­ers are not the ones earn­ing the vast prof­its to be made from cho­co­late: many live in poverty, of­ten ex­ploited and un­der­paid for their crop. Most can­not even af­ford that ba­sic lux­ury in the west: a bar of cho­co­late. “It’s white peo­ple who eat cho­co­late, not us,” one says.

The mix­ing of clean beans with ‘dirty’ co­coa means that cho­co­late pro­duced by the world’s top brands could con­tain il­le­gally grown crops

Main pho­to­graph: Mighty Earth

A felled tree in a pro­tected for­est in Ivory Coast. Lo­cal peo­ple cut the rain­for­est down to make room for the co­coa crop

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