Who moved my chocolate; climate and farmer change.
The biggest footprint for a sustainably produced chocolate is the farming, and farmers stand at the cross-road. What’s it all about?
Climate change and cacao
There is evidence to suggest that the largest weight in the carbon footprint of a classic chocolate bar comes from the farming (and then shipping) , and even more so when the cacao was mono-cropped in full sun and grown with chemicals (Recanati, Marveggio et al. 2018). This research was made with the well-accepted Life Cycle Assessment approach and benchmarking an Italian chocolate company who incorporated renewable energy, water recycling and smart heating into the factory processes for a classic 100 gram 70% chocolate bar. The methodology to track impact reviewed the following categories of climate impact, from the entire production chain of cacao: acidification potential, eutrophication potential, global warming potential, photochemical ozone creation potential, ozone layer depletion potential, abiotic depletion and cumulative energy demand.
Results showed overwhelmingly, that the largest contribution to footprint in this company’s chocolate was the cacao provisioning, farming and shipping. Additionally, the researchers found a notable difference in the overall footprint of the complete chocolate when the cacao beans were farmed with chemical inputs and no shade trees, compared to those which were farmed in a conservation agricultural way.
This research echoes Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports tracing agriculture as responsible for up to 29% of green-house gas emissions and 70% of fresh water use (Vermeulen, Campbell et al. 2012) (IPCC 2014). This is important work which highlights the need for focused climate protection and engagement at the source of chocolate in cacao farming.
The need to collaborate between science and farming for a new way forward in conservation agriculture is called for and there is opportunity to do agri-zone specific site-level climate adaption planning (Schroth, Läderach et al. 2017) together with farming communities to co-create farming practices that are future-proof and more mindful of the environment. Certainly what will be key to a successful transition is teaching and implementing the challenge of the land and future climate risk (Bunn 2018) with the lowest risk for people who rely on agri-income; ‘No-regret adaption’.
‘No-regret adaption’ takes into consideration that adaption for climate change involves both risk and opportunity. Climate adaption (changing cacao farming techniques, timing, maintenance, approach, inputs) can create short-term costs for a farmer, and the guarantee is not always assured. Thus, there is a level of planning called ‘No-Regret Adaption’ which takes the basic climatic expectations, for example higher future temperatures, reduced rain in certain cacao growing regions and planning for farming under certain circumstances. As data shows that there is likely longer dry seasons a focus on soil health and organic matter for nutrient availability and disease resistance would be a way to take actions which are likely to buffer the impacts.
Farmer-First oriented change
While the science of climate change and the environmental impact coming out of cacao agriculture is clear, it is vital to ensure that guardians of cacao are on board with what changes and potential risks those involve take. As the daughter of a rubber farmer, I know from my father (and grandfather) the worry about changing systems and the forethought of impact on yield and income is always top of mind. Addressing the pain-point of farmer’s and their ability to make a sustainable living income to maintain health and education for their families’ is vital in the future of cacao’s growth (Pannell, Llewellyn et al. 2014).
Although farmers have been very adaptive to earth’s evolutions in the past, there is evidence to suggest that there is an unprecedented rate of change (Füssel 2007) and farmers, particularly those in low resource locations are most vulnerable. Having resources to make changes, while being unsure about their effectiveness is a very luxury position and not a space where most farmers in cacao sit, it was not something my family experienced. Certainly not my colleagues who have only a few hectares which they can farm and feel the weight and worry of changing political and civil circumstance as much as they notice the weather around them behave differently to decades before. While there is increase in extension services and training over the last years for farming, pacing their understanding and approach is vital to encouraging testing of conservation agri-methods.
Opportunities for conservation agriculture
Conservation agriculture in cacao has four surprising opportunities to both meet these challenges and resolve other challenges at the same time.
1) Agroforestry which produces diversity and new income sources, as well as improved soil nutrition and lower carbon footprint (Utomo, Prawoto et al. 2016).
2) Unique projects have shown how cacao can contribute to post-conflict resolution, peace and prosperity (Juan Carlos Suárez, Marie Ange Ngo et al. 2018) and
3) Contribute to the measures outlined in the Sendai Framework for risk reduction.
These will be discussed in future blogs here at CACAO.academy .
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
― Margaret Mead
Weaving the science of cacao agricultural zones and climate change, together with the politics of farmer adaption and family health, this research at CACAO.academy brings a wholistic view on the where, who and how of opportunities to upskill farmers in a way that is truly sustainable for their land, wealth and health.
What are your thoughts on no-regret adaption?
Recommended Reading and References
- Bunn, C. C., Fabio; Lundy, Mark; Läderach, Peter. (2018). Climate change and cocoa cultivation. Achieving sustainable cultivation of cocoa. P. e. Umaharan. Cambridge, UK, Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing:
- Füssel, H.-M. (2007). "Adaptation planning for climate change: concepts, assessment approaches, and key lessons." Sustainability Science 2(2): 265-275.
- IPCC (2014). Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. R. K. P. a. L. A. Meyer. Geneva, IPCC:
- Juan Carlos Suárez, S., B. Marie Ange Ngo, L. M. Melgarejo, A. D. R. Julio and F. Casanoves (2018). "First typology of cacao (Theobroma cacao L.) systems in Colombian Amazonia, based on tree species richness, canopy structure and light availability."
- Pannell, D. J., R. S. Llewellyn and M. Corbeels (2014). "The farm-level economics of conservation agriculture for resource-poor farmers." Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 187(C): 52-64.
- Recanati, F., D. Marveggio and G. Dotelli (2018). "From beans to bar: A life cycle assessment towards sustainable chocolate supply chain." Science of The Total Environment 613-614: 1013-1023.
- Schroth, G., P. Läderach, A. I. Martinez-Valle and C. Bunn (2017). "From site-level to regional adaptation planning for tropical commodities: cocoa in West Africa." Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 22(6): 903-927.
- Utomo, B., A. A. Prawoto, S. Bonnet, A. Bangviwat and S. H. Gheewala (2016). "Environmental performance of cocoa production from monoculture and agroforestry systems in Indonesia." Journal of Cleaner Production 134: 583-591.
- Vermeulen, S. J., B. M. Campbell and J. S. I. Ingram (2012). "Climate Change and Food Systems." Annual Review of Environment and Resources 37(1): 195-222.