The governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and 33 companies involved in the global cocoa trade have joined together to help protect the West African cocoa-growing regions. According to Food Ingredients First, this joint commitment is designed to move the industry toward being deforestation-free.
The goals include no further conversion of any forest land for cocoa production and eliminating illegal production in protected areas, the site reported. Individual companies such as Nestlé and Mondelēz have already published action plans on how they will expand existing programs to help the cause.
"Addressing the issue of deforestation in cocoa is complex and is a shared responsibility," Alexander von Maillot, head of Nestlé confectionery strategic business unit, said in a statement. "We ... are determined to contribute to a sustainable cocoa sector where the protection of the environment is aligned with the social and economic development of cocoa farmers and producing countries."
This initiative sounds like a significant development that could shift priorities toward a more sustainable global cocoa supply. The 33 companies joining in the Cocoa & Forests Initiative account for about 85% of global cocoa usage, according to Food Ingredients First, while Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana produce approximately 65% of the global supply of the crop.
The companies involved are producing tangible action plans, and the two governments have been consulting with a variety of stakeholders such as cocoa and chocolate firms, farmers, environmental groups and development partners in order to come up with a path forward.
The deforestation problem is serious and growing more so with each passing year. Food Ingredients First said from 2001 to 2017, Côte d’Ivoire lost 17% of its forest cover to agricultural encroachment while Ghana has lost 13%. These governments and companies are using surveys, mapping and satellite monitoring to help stop deforestation in the most sensitive areas. They're also implementing traceability systems to make sure cocoa is legally sourced from outside these areas.
Getting buy-in from the impacted countries and some very large players in the chocolate space is essential for making something happen on the ground. Consumers may not be aware of the issue — or care whether their chocolate is sustainable — but they're likely to become concerned if and when the cost of the product skyrockets due to dwindling cocoa supplies impacted by climate change.
Well-known companies in the sector — Nestlé, Barry Callebaut, Mondelēz, Ferrero, Godiva, Hershey, Lindt, Mars, among others — have signed onto the Cocoa & Forests Initiative because they know changes need to be made before their cocoa supplies become limited.
According to a recent study, the major cocoa-growing areas in West Africa may not be able to produce the crop by 2050 due to the effects of climate change. As a result, cocoa production may have to move higher up in elevation. Farmers may need to plant hardier varieties, add shade trees around cocoa fields, institute better farming practices and generally engage in more sustainable production.
Producers and manufacturers might benefit by educating consumers that cocoa could be in trouble from climate change and that they're doing things to lessen the problem. People may shift their buying habits to more sustainable chocolate to show their support for such actions, which could in turn provide a competitive edge to companies signing onto — and following through with — sustainability commitments.
Meanwhile, cocoa demand is going nowhere but up. The U.S. market for chocolate was valued at about $22 billion in 2016, but it is projected to eclipse $30 billion by 2021, according to TechSci Research. With a built-in clientele for chocolate products, it seems worthwhile for all parties concerned to help guarantee a reliable and sustainable cocoa crop.