Unloading sacks of cocoa at Abidjan port, Ivory Coast

10 November 2022

Cocoa exports drive deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire

Unloading sacks of cocoa at Abidjan port, Ivory Coast (Godong/Alamy Stock Photo)

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Commodity traders Cargill, Olam, Barry Callebaut and Touton are exposed to high levels of deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), where 2.4 million hectares of forest has been cleared in the past two decades primarily to produce cocoa for Europe’s chocolate manufacturers.

World leaders are gathering in Egypt for the COP27 climate conference dubbed the ‘African COP’. A key theme is the role of agriculture in reducing emissions, adapting to climate change and delivering food security on the continent.

In the west African country of Côte d’Ivoire, cocoa production is the leading cause of deforestation. Between 2000 and 2019, 2.4 million hectares (Mha) of forest was replaced by cocoa plantations – an area almost the size of Rwanda – according to new analysis by Trase and its partners at UCLouvain. It represents 45% of the total deforestation and forest degradation in the country.

In 2019, 25% of the cocoa production area in Côte d'Ivoire was located within ‘protected’ areas and forest reserves as classified by local environmental legislation. Weak governance means these laws are rarely enforced.

Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s largest producer of cocoa, growing about 40% of cocoa bean supplies. Around two thirds of its cocoa is exported to the EU and the UK where it is used to make chocolate.

Revealing deforestation in traders’ supply chains

Commodity traders and confectionary companies sourcing cocoa from Côte d’Ivoire face increasing regulatory and reputational risks through being associated with driving deforestation. The EU is finalising a regulation to prohibit the importation of commodities grown on deforested land which requires companies to conduct due diligence of their supply chains and demonstrate their products are deforestation-free.

Trase’s analysis suggests that companies will struggle to comply because over 55% of cocoa from Côte d’Ivoire is untraceable , either because it is indirectly sourced by traders from local intermediaries or exported by traders that disclose no information about their suppliers.

Trase is able to calculate the deforestation exposure of cocoa traders in Côte d’Ivoire by analysing cocoa production and 2019 trade data combined with satellite mapping of deforestation over the period 2000-2015 to link regions where cocoa is harvested to export markets where it is consumed.

The results show that Cargill’s 2019 exports were exposed to 183,000 ha of deforestation (2000-2015), followed by Olam with 165,000 ha, Barry Callebaut 158,000 ha and Touton 99,000 ha. Overall, 58% of deforestation exposure is from untraced sources that are either indirect or unknown. The EU is exposed to 838,000 ha of deforestation from Ivorian cocoa with 56% from untraced sources.

Most cocoa traders have slightly lower deforestation exposure per tonne of traced supplies of cocoa compared to the average for untraced supplies. The exception is Touton, which has a slightly higher deforestation exposure per tonne of traced cocoa because it sources from areas with higher rates of deforestation; for example, 18% of Touton’s directly sourced cocoa comes from Guiglo, a department where considerable deforestation has taken place.

Traceability lags behind EU due diligence requirements

The Cocoa & Forests Initiative (CFI) is a partnership between 35 companies in the cocoa supply chain and the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana which aims to end cocoa-driven deforestation and improve the livelihoods of cocoa farmers.

The CFI is committed to achieving 100% supply chain traceability . The CFI’s 2021 progress report says that its members have mapped 72% of their suppliers. However, this only refers to direct suppliers and not indirect sources. Trase estimates that CFI traders have mapped only around two fifths of all farms in Côte d’Ivoire that supply them, representing less than a quarter of the country’s annual cocoa exports.

Even if traceability by traders is stronger for cocoa exports destined for the EU, for which a greater proportion of farms have been mapped, and for supplies via farming cooperatives, where mapping is easier to accomplish, there is still a long way to go before all cocoa can be traced to farms.

Moving from individualism to collaboration

Demand-side measures to increase traceability such as the EU’s draft regulation are a welcome leap forward, but they are insufficient to tackle deforestation especially for cocoa where much of the supply is from indirect sources.

A landscape or jurisdictional approach offers the opportunity for traders and companies to work beyond their individual supply chains towards improving governance and land-use planning through formal collaboration with stakeholders including central and local government, farmers, communities and civil society organisations, not only for cocoa, but all land uses in the area.

The CFI is a positive step in this direction, but it has so far done little more than bring together a handful of individual corporate sustainability projects. To stop deforestation, and to meet the aims of the recently announced ‘ Agriculture Sector Roadmap to 1.5°C ’ in a meaningful way, the sector needs to focus on collaborative projects at scale; for instance, by jointly financing personnel and equipment for forest monitoring and protection efforts across cocoa-growing regions, and implementing a transparent, nationwide traceability system .

Stakeholders attending COP27 could use the opportunity to encourage measures to support a resilient, diversified, smallholder farming sector in Côte d’Ivoire and across the globe, which safeguards forests upon which agriculture is dependent.

The author thanks Erasmus zu Ermgassen, Patrick Meyfroidt, Vivian Ribeiro and Mathil Vandromme for their invaluable contributions to the research.

Explore the new data on cocoa from Côte d’Ivoire on Trase Supply Chains

Read the research paper Transparency, traceability and deforestation in the Ivorian cocoa supply chain, Renier et al 2022 (preprint)