The governments of Ghana and the Ivory Coast are formulating plans to immediately put a stop to all new deforestation after a Guardian investigation found that the cocoa industry was destroying their rainforests.
The west African neighbours have been drafting new measures to rescue their remaining forests and replant degraded ones.
In an investigation published in September, the Guardian found that deforestation-linked cocoa had entered the supply chains of some of the biggest players in the chocolate industry. At the same time, the environmental group Mighty Earth published Chocolate’s Dark Secret, a report that found that “a large amount of the cocoa used in chocolate produced by Mars, Nestle, Hershey’s, Godiva, and other major chocolate companies was grown illegally.”
Corrupt Ivorian officials whose job it was to protect the country’s national parks and classified forests were accepting huge bribes to allow small-scale farmers to cut them down and grow cocoa.
This cocoa was then bought by middlemen who sold it on to large cocoa traders including Barry Callebaut and Cargill, companies which sell to Mars, Cadbury and Nestlé.
The action taken by the governments is very promising, Mighty Earth said, but will not succeed unless the cocoa traders and chocolate manufacturers put money into the effort.
“The big danger now is that the industry’s going to kick the can down the road and blame the Ghanaian and Ivorian governments and make them fix the problem without helping enough financially. But the people who have the money and the technical resources to fix it are the industry,” said Etelle Higonnet, the lead author of the Mighty Earth report.
Contacted by the Guardian, the chocolatiers Mars, the Hershey Company and Mondelez, the owners of Cadbury, did not say that they would commit any money to the governments’ plans; Mondelez pointed to its sustainable sourcing programme Cocoa Life, while Hershey said that more than 75% of the cocoa it buys is certified and sustainable, and that it would be at 100% by 2020. Mars said that “joint frameworks for action” would be released at the climate change conference, outlining “the key actions, time frames, and technical and financial commitments for forest protection and restoration in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.”
Under the Ivorian draft plans, which appear to be sanctioned by the prime minister’s office, these traders will each take responsibility for a number of degraded classified forests and turn them into densely shaded forest, organising farmers to plant trees while growing cocoa underneath them.
This is a far more sustainable way of growing the cocoa on which the Ghanaian and Ivorian economies rely than the current way, whereby many farmers cut down ancient trees to ensure their cocoa plantations have full sun.
As well as the effect that the decimation of west African rainforests has on global climate change, scientists say it also dramatically reduces rainfall. If current patterns continue, there will not be enough rain to grow cocoa at all.
The handful of Ivorian classified forests that have not lost swaths of trees will be upgraded to national parks, while one national park, Marahoué, is in such a bad condition that it will probably be downgraded, perhaps to a classified forest.
It is unclear who will pay for the Ivorian government’s plans. It expects the traders to pay, but has not made it clear what the consequences will be if they refuse. The number of people living inside protected areas makes it a complicated and fraught task: the government has faced accusations of human rights abuses for evicting thousands of cocoa farmers from Mont Péko national park.
In Ghana, meanwhile, the plans are far-reaching, and if enacted, could transform the landscape, though it is unclear whether those drafting them have sufficient clout or money to do so.
In addition to committing to no new deforestation, land and tree tenure reform, and transparency in the supply chain so that cocoa can be traced down to the farm gate level, ensuring that none of it comes from illegal protected areas, the government is also agreeing to the high carbon stock approach. This is a way of making decisions about land use that protects low as well as high-density forest, which means that more of Ghana’s forests can be salvaged.
However, there is still less clarity on how this will be funded than in the Ivory Coast. Cocoa prices in both countries have fallen by a third in the past year, and Ghana’s economy has been affected by low gold and oil prices too, as well as a fiscal crisis that that the IMF plugged with credit that so far totals $565m. Monitoring and replanting the forests will cost tens of millions the country will struggle to afford.
Chocolate companies and traders should pay, according to Higgonet.
“The companies need to pay for planting the trees next year. They’re likely to reap a $4bn windfall profit, because the price of chocolate bars has stayed the same but the price of cocoa is collapsing,” she said. “So what can they do with that extra money? Well, they can use it to plant trees.”
Many top players in the cocoa industry say they will release a “joint framework for action” with the governments on 17 November. But there is concern that a tightening in west Africa could just push the trade elsewhere.
“Cocoa is moving into these frontier forests,” Higgonet said, “ in central Africa, Indonesia and the Amazon – and we will keep reproducing the same disasters that we saw in west Africa unless we protect those forests now.”