How the co­coa in­dus­try is af­fect­ing our wildlife

World of Animals - - Front Page - Words Char­lie Gin­ger

As the world’s favourite sweet treat, choco­late is big busi­ness. Whether it’s white, milk or dark, glob­ally we con­sume choco­late by the ton. In fact, be­tween 2015– 2016 we chomped our way through ap­prox­i­mately 7.3 mil­lion tons of it, and it’s pre­dicted that in the com­ing year this in­cred­i­ble fig­ure will rise to 7.7 mil­lion, which helps to ex­plain why, as of 2015, the value of the dark choco­late mar­ket alone stood at $34.25 bil­lion (ap­prox­i­mately £24 bil­lion). Our love for choco­late shows no sign of wan­ing, but how much do we re­ally know about it?

Choco­late has been cul­ti­vated for at least 3,000 years, with the first ev­i­dence of its pro­duc­tion dat­ing all the way back to 1100 BCE in Mex­ico, Cen­tral and South Amer­ica. While many of us may reg­u­larly give thanks for the likes of Lindt and Mars, we ac­tu­ally owe the big­gest debt of grat­i­tude to the Aztecs, who, hav­ing seen the po­ten­tial locked in­side the un­ap­peal­ing shell of a co­coa bean, pro­ceeded to trans­form it into a drink called ‘na­hati’, mean­ing ‘bit­ter wa­ter’.

This de­li­cious treat re­mained hid­den within the depths of the Ama­zon and other re­mote parts of the Amer­i­cas un­til the early 1500s, when a Span­ish ex­plorer by the name of Don Hernán Cortés be­gan ship­ping the pre­cious beans back to Europe. While the cus­tom of drink­ing choco­late took quite a long time to take hold in Europe, there was no turn­ing back – choco­late was here to stay.

“As of 2015, the value of the dark choco­late mar­ket alone stood at $34.25

bil­lion (ap­prox­i­mately £24 bil­lion)”

As with any pop­u­lar com­mod­ity, the rapidly grow­ing de­mand for choco­late re­sulted in more and more coun­tries seek­ing to grow co­coa beans, even­tu­ally lead­ing to to­day’s global in­dus­try. Even so, two-thirds of the choco­late cur­rently be­ing pro­duced comes from Africa alone – mainly the Ivory Coast and Ghana, al­though In­done­sia is also a key player. Sadly, the spread of choco­late has re­sulted in the dev­as­ta­tion of the wildlife in these three en­vi­ron­men­tally vi­tal coun­tries, with the Ivory Coast hit par­tic­u­larly hard.

Il­le­gal de­for­esta­tion has de­vel­oped into a crit­i­cal prob­lem, 30 per cent of which is driven by the de­sire to clear forests to make room for co­coa plan­ta­tions. Of the 23 ‘pro­tected’ ar­eas in the Ivory Coast, seven have so far been turned over to co­coa pro­duc­tion, and if this rate con­tin­ues ex­perts pre­dict that by 2030 the coun­try will no longer have any for­est left stand­ing out­side of prop­erly pro­tected ar­eas and na­tional parks.

The main vic­tims of this ra­pa­cious de­for­esta­tion have been chim­panzees and ele­phants. Re­cent re­ports have con­firmed that 13 pro­tected ar­eas have now com­pletely lost their pri­mate pop­u­la­tions, while al­ready en­dan­gered species such as the white-naped mangabey and the roloway mon­key now face ex­tinc­tion. The coun­try’s ele­phant pop­u­la­tion has also been dec­i­mated, with an orig­i­nal pop­u­la­tion num­ber­ing in the thou­sands now re­duced to be­tween 200–400 sur­vivors.

While the loss of their orig­i­nal liv­ing space and food sources is a ma­jor con­trib­u­tory fac­tor in the demise of both an­i­mals, an­other key prob­lem stems from their des­per­ate ef­forts to find a new home. With only around four per cent of the Ivory Coast’s pri­mary forests re­main­ing, pri­mates and ele­phants are be­ing forced into ever-nar­rower cor­ri­dors of jun­gle, which in turn makes them a lot eas­ier to find and poach. Pygmy hip­pos, fly­ing squir­rels, pan­golins, leop­ards and crocodiles are just some of the other an­i­mals that have suf­fered ter­ri­bly for our love of choco­late.

The sit­u­a­tion is sim­i­larly bleak in neigh­bour­ing Ghana, where around 30 per cent of the na­tion’s pro­tected forests have been scythed down to make room for co­coa plan­ta­tions. Un­sur­pris­ingly, this is hav­ing a dev­as­tat­ing im­pact on Ghana’s chim­panzee pop­u­la­tion, which be­tween 2001–2013 lost ten per cent of its for­est cover.

An­other vic­tim of the seem­ingly un­stop­pable spread of co­coa plan­ta­tions in Ghana are na­tive frogs. There are 78 known species of frog oc­cur­ring in the coun­try, many of which are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly en­dan­gered, partly as a re­sult of the chem­i­cals used to pro­tect co­coa crops. Atrazine is a com­monly used her­bi­cide that erad­i­cates weeds in or­der to al­low co­coa plants to flour­ish. How­ever, it is also known to turn one in ten of the male frogs ex­posed to it into fe­males while chem­i­cally cas­trat­ing as much as 75 per cent of the male pop­u­la­tion. This in turn can lead to a dra­matic de­cline in an al­ready fall­ing pop­u­la­tion, as the ef­fected males can no longer re­pro­duce. Such is the level of de­struc­tion that one species, the Togo slip­pery frog, is now be­lieved to be ex­tinct in the wild.

The threat posed by the co­coa in­dus­try would be grave enough if it were re­stricted to the African con­ti­nent, but this is far from the case. In­done­sia is the third high­est global ex­porter of co­coa and has wit­nessed the loss of 1.7 mil­lion acres of for­est be­tween 1988–2007.

This en­vi­ron­men­tal dev­as­ta­tion has dis­placed a host of en­dan­gered an­i­mals, in­clud­ing orang­utans and the Su­ma­tran species of rhino, ele­phant and tiger.

South Amer­ica is yet an­other con­ti­nent that has read­ily de­pleted its nat­u­ral re­sources in a bid to chase the prof­its of­fered by choco­late. Co­coa pro­duc­tion in Peru leapt

“The main vic­tims of this ra­pa­cious de­for­esta­tion

have been chim­panzees and ele­phants”

15-fold be­tween 2007–2016, aided by or­gan­i­sa­tions such as United Co­coa, which flat­tened al­most 5,000 acres of pris­tine for­est in 2012. This sin­gle clear­ance un­leashed over 54 tons of car­bon per acre and re­sulted in fur­ther en­croach­ment into the Ama­zon.

With de­mand for choco­late only in­creas­ing, it seems as though there is lit­tle chance of re­vers­ing this dras­tic en­vi­ron­men­tal carve up be­fore it’s too late. How­ever, there are some grounds for op­ti­mism, and it comes in the form of or­gan­i­sa­tions such as Mighty Earth, who re­cently man­aged to pres­sure gi­ants such as Mars and Nestlé into fi­nally agree­ing to stop pur­chas­ing il­le­gal co­coa and to in­vest­ing in re­vers­ing the de­for­esta­tion that has been caused to date. We spoke to Etelle Higonnet, Mighty Earth's cam­paign and le­gal di­rec­tor, who ex­plained how they man­aged to do it.

“By prov­ing that ma­jor choco­late com­pa­nies were buy­ing il­le­gal co­coa and nam­ing them, we put them in a tough spot. Along with the me­dia, donors and other com­pa­nies, they in turn pres­sured West

African gov­ern­ments quite hard to sort out the le­gal­ity is­sues. This, along with the good will of key ac­tors in­side the gov­ern­ments, had the ef­fect of set­ting off deeper re­forms from both states.

“Ini­tially we met a great deal of re­sis­tance, but co­coa is more of a lux­ury, feel-good prod­uct than palm oil or soy, so co­coa com­pa­nies are more vul­ner­a­ble to cam­paigns than palm or soy com­pa­nies. This makes them more likely to change. More­over,

co­coa com­pa­nies were al­ready hit hard by scan­dals around child labour in the last 18 years. It’s made them more sen­si­tive to a new wave of scan­dals. In that sense, Mighty Earth is stand­ing on the shoul­ders of gi­ants who al­ready tar­geted the co­coa in­dus­try for decades to try and make it more re­spon­si­ble.”

If this cru­cial step is com­bined with the full-scale adop­tion of more eco­log­i­cally minded grow­ing tech­niques, Etelle be­lieves that things re­ally can start to change.

“Al­though the choco­late in­dus­try is far from be­ing en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly, to­day we are con­fi­dent that at­ti­tudes to­wards choco­late pro­duc­tion are chang­ing.

The in­dus­try is en­tirely ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing choco­late in an eth­i­cal way. To achieve this the choco­late in­dus­try must shift to 100 per cent shade-grown co­coa pro­duc­tion. Mov­ing from full-sun to shade-grown co­coa would help co­coa tran­si­tion from for­est en­emy to for­est friend. It would turn co­coa into a ve­hi­cle for par­tially re­green­ing West Africa.” Only time will tell if the world’s lead­ing co­coa grow­ers and their multi-bil­lion­dol­lar cus­tomers are truly com­mit­ted to chang­ing their ways and work­ing to­wards cre­at­ing choco­late that is no longer tainted by de­struc­tion. While the many prob­lems that plague the in­dus­try won’t stop us all tuck­ing into our favourite bars, per­haps they will at least make us stop to won­der what else we’re un­wrap­ping the next time we reach for one.

Be­low The main im­pact of grow­ing co­coa is de­for­esta­tion, which in turn dis­places en­dan­gered an­i­mals

right The Su­ma­tran tiger pop­u­la­tion has plum­meted from around 1,000 in 1978 to less than 400 to­day

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