Saturday, 14 October 2017

Unsustainable Chocolate Production linked to extensive Deforestation and Human Rights abuses in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana.

Chocolate is a widely consumed confectionary item in temperate regions, particularly in Europe and North America. However, the product is produced from Cocoa Beans, Theobroma cacao, which are grown in tropical nations where little Chocolate is consumed, resulting in a supply chain in which the origins of the product are invisible to its ultimate consumers. Côte d'Ivoire is the world's largest producer of Chocolate, producing 1 741 000 tons of beans in the 2013-4 growing season, with neighbouring Ghana producing 897 000 tons of beans in the same period, making it the world's second largest producer. However, both countries have suffered extensive deforestation in recent years, including extensive habitat loss within national parks in Côte d'Ivoire, raising questions about how the industry is being organized.

In a report published by the environmental organization Mighty Earth in September 2017, Etelle Higonnet, Marisa Bellantonio, and Glenn Hurowitz discuss the relationship between Cocoa production and deforestation in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana, the responsibilities of multi-national companies trading in Cocoa and recommendations for the future of the industry.

Côte d'Ivoire was largely covered by tropical forests when it gained independence from France in 1960, and was considered to be one of Africa's most biodiverse nations, with extensive populations of Elephants and Chimpanzees. However less than 11% of the country is covered by forest today, with less than 4% covered by dense primary forest. This includes national parks and other (theoretically) protected areas in the nation, where about 90% of the land is now dedicated to Cocoa production. Between 2001 and 2014 Côte d'Ivoire is estimated to have lost about 1200 square kilometres of tropical forest, while over the same period Ghana lost about 7000 square kilometres (about 10% of its total forest cover). 

Forest Cover in Côte d'Ivoire, 1990–2015. Higonnet et al. (2017).

Higgonet et al. visited Côte d'Ivoire to investigate the situation in the country's national parks. They found that invasion and clearing of the parks was largely carried out by poor settlers, who cleared the forest to establish smallholdings, which then sold Cocoa Beans as a cash crop to small traders known as pisteurs, who transported the beans to larger villages and towns, where the beans were sold on to larger co-operatives, who either sold them directly to multinational buyers, or to higher level intermediaries who transported the beans to the coastal cities of San Pedro and Abidjan, where they were sold to these companies, with the principle buyers being Olam, Cargill, and Barry Callebaut, who then ship the beans to Europe and North America, where they sell them on to confectionary producers such as Mars, Hershey, Mondelez and Ferrero

Nobody at any point in the supply chain appeared to be under any illusion about the illegal nature of much of the crop, with about 40% of all Ivorian Cocoa Beans sourced from within protected areas. In many areas of these parks quite large villages and towns had sprung up to service the Cocoa industry, with populations in the thousands, warehouses, shops, places of worship and even schools and health centres.

Cocoa growing village in the Scio Classified Forest in Côte d'Ivoire. Higonnet et al. (2017).

Higgonet et al. further note that the distribution of profits from the Chocolate industry is extremely uneven, with an average of 44.2% of the profits going to the retailer and 35.2% to the manufacturer. Farmers in Côte d'Ivoire receive an average of US50¢ per day for their labour, while those in Ghana fare slightly better, receiving on average US85¢ per day for their labour. In addition, about 2.1 million children are thought to be (illegally) employed as labourers in the industry, a figure that has risen 21% in the last five years. 

Forests in Côte d'Ivoire are disappearing at a rate of 4.2% per year, which if continued will result their complete loss within a few decades. These forests are home to a variety of endangered species, including Chimpanzees, Forest Elephants, Pygmy Hippocampus, Flying Squirrels, Pangolins, Leopards and Crocodiles. All of these are suffering sharp declines in numbers due to habitat loss, even where this is not recorded as the obvious cause of population decline. For example, the Forest Elephant population of Côte d'Ivoire is now estimated to be only 200-400 hundred a decline of many thousands over the past few decades. This is generally attributed to poaching of the Elephants, which is true, but the Elephants have been made vulnerable to poaching by deforestation, which has pushed them into ever smaller pockets of forest, accessed by usable roads, enabling the poachers to quickly locate and dispatch Elephants. Higgonet et al also observe that tropical forests are significant carbon repositories, and that clearing the forests causes the release of this carbon into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. They estimate that the consumption of a single dark Chocolate bar produces about as much carbon dioxide as a journey of 7.9 km by car.

Forest elephants. Thomas Breuer in Higonnet et al. (2017). 

Much of this damage is avoidable. The Cocoa Bean grows naturally in the understory of tropical forests, i.e. beneath a canopy of trees. Small farmers clear the forests to increase the amount of light getting to the crop, and thereby increase production, but similar increases can be achieved by better irrigation and the adoption of grafting techniques, and shade grown plants have higher productivity over their total life-cycle than exposed plants. However it is difficult for small farmer to adopt such techniques on their own, as it takes longer before an initial crop is produced, requiring additional support from larger industry players to enable smaller farmers to switch to more sustainable methods.

The response of the Ivorian Government to this appears to have been, to date, poor. The agency responsible for protecting many of the country's forests, the Société de développement des forêts, or Sodefor, collecting payments from farmer operating in protected areas. Côte d'Ivoire has been heavily criticized by the European Union, United Nations and several individual European nations and international development agencies for this, though as a Heavily Indebted Poor Country, Côte d'Ivoire is also under substantial pressure to generate income and open up its markets to outside companies in order to qualify for debt relief.

Higgonet et al note that a recent operation by the Ivorean Government to remove illegal Cocoa farmers from the Mount Péko National Park, which was monitored by Human Rights Watch and the Ivorian Coalition of Human Rights, was poorly organized and resulted in numerous Human Rights violations, and eventually resulted in the farmers paying bribes to return to their land. 

Smallholder farmer opening cocoa pod grown in Mt. Péko National Park. Higonnet et al. (2017).

Higgonet et al. believe that the responsibility for cleaning up the Chocolate industry lies with the large, multinational companies that profit from the trade in beans. However, the current model appears to work very well for those companies, who are responding to current rising demand for the commodity by promoting similar practices in areas of expanding production, such as Indonesia, Peru and the Democratic Republic of Congo, all areas with extensive tropical forests vulnerable to deforestation. Current proposals for improving industry standards are, at best, under-ambitious, for example the current industry-determined objective on (illegal) child labour in the Chocolate industry in Côte d'Ivoire is to reduce it by 70%.

This is not the only possible way in which the industry can be run, however. Higgonet et al. observe that many large players in the Chocolate industry, including Cargill, Olam, Nestle, Mondelez, Mars, Ferrero and Hershey, have already signed up for the High Carbon Stock Approach when purchasing Palm Oil. These guidelines are specifically designed to combat deforestation in tropical regions, and are currently employed (though sadly not univerally) in the Palm Oil, paper, Sugar, Soy, and Rubber industries, and use methods such as targetting new development on areas of already degraded land to reduce the felling of primary rainforest. Such protocols could, in theory, be extended to Cocoa production as well with very little adaptation.

See also...

http://sciencythoughts.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/pathogenic-oomycete-chromists-from-new.htmlhttp://sciencythoughts.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/the-role-of-gold-mining-in.html
http://sciencythoughts.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/mapping-deforestation-on-borneo.htmlhttp://sciencythoughts.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/at-least-three-dead-following.html
http://sciencythoughts.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/the-ten-most-polluted-places-on-earth.htmlhttp://sciencythoughts.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/dutch-court-upholds-fine-against.html
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