Chocolate industry destroying rainforest in Cote d’Ivoire

The world’s chocolate industry is driving deforestation on a devastating scale in West Africa. As global demand for chocolate booms, ‘dirty’ beans from deforested national parks have entered big business supply chains.

As much as 40% of the world’s cocoa comes from Cote d’Ivoire, and the rainforest cover has been reduced by more than 80% since 1960.

The chocolate industry has many small-scale farmers who grow cocoa on plantations, many of which are illegal as they are in national parks or protected forests. They sell it to middlemen (pisteurs), or direct to buyers in local towns. These supply traders, which are often multimillion-dollar companies, which in turn sell to big chocolatiers. There are so many layers in the supply chains that big brands sourcing from implicated traders cannot be sure their product is not contaminated.

Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana are the world’s first and second biggest producers. They are also the biggest victims of deforestation. Cote d’Ivoire is losing its forests at a faster rate than any other African country – less than 4% of the country is covered in rainforest. In the past, 25% of the country was covered in rainforest.

By 2030 there may be no forest left.  In recent years, the annual rate of deforestation inside parks has doubled, and in both Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, it is going twice as fast as deforestation in unprotected areas.

Many cocoa industry players – although not all – have pledged to end deforestation and forest degradation in a collective statement published in June this year.  In 2010 Nestle pledged that none of its products should be associated with deforestation, and added that it supported international moves to secure zero net-deforestation by 2020. The cocoa traders Cargill claim they are aiming to ensure that more than 70% of its Ivory Coast product would be third-party verified or certified by the 2019.

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 at the UN’s Convention on Climate Change in November.

In 2004 Guy-André Kieffer, a French-Canadian journalist working on a story about cocoa and corruption, disappeared. He is believed to have been killed.

The destruction of the Mount Tia rainforest in Cote d’Ivoire started in 2004, during the first civil war. Its much larger neighbor, Mount Sassandra forest, remained almost untouched until 2011, long after that conflict ended.

Now, however, farmers in Mount Sassandra, avoid 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.

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