Chocolate and Deforestation: A short summary for Earth Ratings Event in Berlin
deforestation Jun 30, 2019
On July 11 July in Berlin, Earth Ratings is hosting indigenous leaders, Belen Paez and Manari Ushugue, from Ecuador & Peru in order to set up a protected zone from deforestation in the Amazon. Carsten Roland and Perttu Ratilainen have invited them here as part of the Amazon Sacred Headwaters as a joint initiative of NGOs and 18 tribes living in the Amazon basin in Peru and Ecuador. The group is looking to create a protection of 250.000km2 within the region for traditional land owners and keep it safe from deforestation. https://sacredheadwaters.org
The Amazon Sacred Headwaters fights new concessions for the extractive industries, aims to secure the role of the indigenous people as the guardians of the forest and does this in part by integrating innovation and new technologies. It also develops a new regenerative economic model based on the realities of the Amazon rainforest.
I was invited to come and be a speaker and share an overview of deforestation in cacao, however due to other commitments cannot personally attend, however write this short summary in advance for a (very) short summary of how forest conservation is not up to speed in the chocolate industry.
What did chocolate contribute to deforestation?
There has been an increase in deforestation due to increased demand on products, in cacao, this has been an increase in demand for chocolate. There are new countries which have entered the chocolate market (China and India), while traditional markets (Europe, N America) have continued to grow consumption as well.
As demand has increased there has been a simultaneous decrease of production, due to aging trees, aging farmers (and next generation leaving for different jobs), effective and efficient farming techniques not being used and also, in some places, the reduced volume of land able to be used, due to climate change.
Why are forests being cultivated for a small crop like cacao?
Deforestation has been an often-used remedy, because there is also an urban myth that ‘more land = more cacao trees = more yield’. The issue of efficiency of the land use is still not as strong as the idea of the volume of the land, which has been driving land grabbing, growing in native forests, either in the understory, or completely felling trees to make way for monocropped new farms. In my experience in the Philippines, we are often working on land rehabilitation, that after significant logging for timber in the 1960s, the hills are almost like bald heads, and we start by mapping out a top story of coconuts, bananas and rubber trees to grow first, and working on soil rejuvenation. As a cacao tree takes 2-4 years to grow, we notice it takes almost the same amount of time to re-hab a plot of land, so it is able to be productive again. Besides land intensification, the other key issue related to deforestation is land tenure - a farmer’s ability to secure their land. The interdependent issue of sustainable finance, to fund securing of land, access to training and inputs for land intensification is vital to boost activity.
Sadly, we notice after long decades of deforestation practice, farmer knowledge about bio-diverse farming is reduced as it has been diluted as a standard practice. Conversely, in Papua New Guinea where stunning natural rainforest still stands strong in islands like Bougainville, cacao and other crops have grown easily and naturally. The skillset to naturally intensify the already very healthy soil and surroundings is also not known and sometimes the interest to fell trees to make space for new cacao plantings occurs. Thus, is why, my company is focused on cacao farmer training, and not growing harvesting per say. There is more work to be done on the conditions around supporting farmers to learn and be incentivised and able to naturally craft climate adaptive processes for pest and disease control, planting, harvesting and post-processing. It is estimated that there are 5-6 million cacao farmers working hard on producing the raw material for chocolate, and is also one of the few global crops that is still mostly farmed by smallfarmholders.
Surely the certification programs are stopping this?
Although cacao comes from South America, the majority of growth and harvest occurs in West Africa, where also the most significant deforestation rates are reported. The rise of certification programs which focus on climate adaptive and natural farming have increased in the last years, however the lack of technical and economic capacity at the farm (given the volume of small farm holders) renders them an ineffective tool regarding reducing deforestation. Although many of the programs include biodiversity and forest conversion elements, they are still limited and have the persisting issue of the cost of certification while premiums that flow to farmers are too low. KPMG have reported that farmers in certification programs have seen some increase in productivity and profit, however on average, approximately just 10% of additional revenue.
Although some cacao farmers have experienced an improvement since private certifications, the overall productivity of the output is still relatively low and thus not attracting next generation to consider farming or the existing farmer to give up on cacao and try something else. In our experience, we have had good success with training cacao farmers to plant and harvest other crops for a more diversified livelihood and focus on a small portion of their land for intensive cacao farming, and food and sellable crops on the remaining land; and switching them after some time to give the land change and space to regenerate. As farmers are entrepreneurs, it is about choosing the crops which have the payback period spread out in a way that ensures a good and stable income over time, and reduce the extreme highs and lows.
On the sourcing side, there are companies, from large bean to bar manufacturers, to traders and grinders, chocolate and confectionary producers which state a goal to end deforestation (and use sustainable packaging) and make this commitment by stating they will purchase sustainably certified cacao. To this end, there are many interventions and processes around the topic, from farmer training, and also land rehabilitation and replanting.
Henders, Person and Kastner (2015) have reported that agriculture, mostly palm oil, soy, cattle and wood products are the biggest causes of deforestation attributing approximately 40% of forest loss (an average 3.8 million hectares (ha) per year). Cacao, comparatively, has a smaller deforestation footprint, however it is exactly in the regions where biodiversity is most at risk (Upper Guinea Tropical Rainforest, South East Asian Rainforests, and Amazon Forest) and Gockowski and Sonwa (2010) suggest that the cacao deforestation role is approximately 2 to 3 million ha for 1988-2008 period.
What needs to be done?
What needs to happen is we need to make a clear goal and action to protect all remaining primary and secondary forests and an agreement of complete ban of deforestation in public and private sectors.
Transparency on sustainability initiatives from companies explaining what policies they have, procurement strategy, benchmarks as it relates to deforestation and most importantly, programs to support farmers in plantation to proactively increase intensification with the inputs they need at the times they need it. Finally, we need more data on the actual hotpots of deforestation to better plan futures.
While I cannot attend the event, I do support Carsten and Perttu https://sacredheadwaters.org and the Amazon Sacred Headwaters Initiative is building a shared vision among indigenous peoples, NGOs, the philanthropic community, social entrepreneurs and governments towards establishing a bi-national protected region – off-limits to industrial scale resource extraction, and governed in accordance with traditional indigenous principles of cooperation and harmony that foster a mutually enhancing human-Earth relationship. The Initiative is led by Amazonian indigenous federations CONFENIAE (Ecuador) and AIDESEP (Peru) in partnership with Pachamama Alliance, Amazon Watch, and Fundación Pachamama and aims to advance bioregional and indigenous-led governance and stewardship of this vast region.
Gockowski and Sonwa. Cocoa Intensification Scenarios and Their Predicted Impact on CO2 Emissions, Biodiversity Conservation and Rural Livelihoods in the Rainforest of West Africa. 2010. CIFOR
Henders, S., Persson, M., & Kastner T. Trading forests: land-use change, and carbon emissions embodied in production and exports of forest-risk commodities. Environmental Research Letters. 2015. Vol 10. Period: 2001-2011.
KPMG, 2012.Cocoa Certification. Study on the costs, advantages and disadvantages of cocoa certification commissioned by The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO). KPMG, The Netherlands. 48p