Cocoa & Forests Initiative Progresses in Côte d’Ivoire, but Journey Far From Over

  • Sustainably farmed cocoa pods in West Africa Sustainability, cocoa sustainability, sustainable cocoa, why is sustainability important, sustainability defined, sustainability movement, cocoa plant, cocoa bean, cacao, raw cacao, deforestation, what is deforestation Alain-Richard Donwahi Minister of Water and Forests of Côte d’Ivoire

    Co-Author Alain-Richard Donwahi

    Minister of Water and Forests
    Republic of Côte d'Ivoire
  • Co-Author

If you ask Yao Ahou why forests matter, it seems obvious to her. The cocoa farmer is seeing what deforestation is doing to where she farms in N’denou, Côte d’Ivoire. It is changing the climate.

“There is less rain because we cut down all the big trees. We took down all the big trees that could get the steam up in the air to attract the rain. If we could have more of these big trees on our cocoa trees (…)! They covered the cocoa trees and protected them at least against the sun.”

Ahou Yao is one among over a million people who are actively involved in the Cocoa & Forests Initiative, which has just published its first progress reports. This first-of-its-kind public-private partnership aims to halt deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana caused by growing cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate.

So how are we doing in Côte d’Ivoire?

The good news is that, over the past decade, the government of Côte d’Ivoire has worked hard to be a global leader on combating climate change. President Alassane Ouattara signed the UN New York Declaration on Forests in 2014 and committed to restore the national forest cover to 20 percent of the territory by 2030.

Over the past two years, the government has accelerated action to create a strong enabling environment for deforestation-free agriculture. A new forest law has been promulgated by the President. Application decrees are progressively being taken in order to implement the Forest Preservation, Restoration and Extension policy and to ensure environmentally sustainable cocoa production. A map on forest cover and land-use has been updated and shared to support improved planning and increased investment in agro-forestry. Social and environmental safeguards have been put in place to ensure the rights of farmers are respected under the Cocoa & Forests initiative.

With the new forest policies, the government of Côte d’Ivoire established a unique process of engaging with companies, farmer organizations, environmental groups, and technical and financial partners to invite feedback. It has used this to develop a strategy and operational guidance for implementation. The Côte d’Ivoire government has also put in place a robust governance structure to ensure the engagement and participation of all stakeholders. This structure includes a key partner: the Conseil du Café Cacao, who fully plays its crucial role of regulation, stabilization, and development of the sector. This high level of cooperation between industry, government, and key partners is enabling businesses to better plan their activities and investments to combat deforestation.

The 35 companies in the Cocoa & Forests Initiative – accounting for 85% of the world’s cocoa trade – have taken strong action in 2018-19, in close partnership with the Ivorian government. They put in place systems to eliminate deforestation from their cocoa sourcing, including mapping almost half-a-million farms. They also distributed almost 2.2 million trees to farmers to establish agroforestry systems, which mix cocoa trees with native trees, and reforest degraded lands.

Companies have also made progress on growing “More Cocoa on Less Land”, a concept that means farmers have less incentive to encroach on forested areas in search of more farmland. Their programs have trained more than 445,000 farmers in good agricultural practices and supported more than 190,000 farmers in crop and income diversification. The aim is to provide cocoa farmers with knowledge, skills and the tools necessary to grow other crops that can diversify their income sources and make them less dependent on cocoa.

These achievements captured in the first progress reports of the Cocoa & Forests Initiative are important. They have meant, notably, a reduction in deforestation rates in some protected areas and classified forests. But the remaining challenges are huge. They are specifically tied to mobilizing funds required to implement strong actions such as refreshing the limits of the classified forests including enclaves, rehabilitation and restoration of degraded lands, environmental and social safeguards, and implementation of a national system of traceability and satellite monitoring of the forest cover.

We have therefore much more to do to achieve our goal of stopping deforestation and restoring forests. For this year, industry and the government will accelerate collaboration between cocoa players and put in place effective new tools to monitor and put a stop to any new deforestation.

We will also look to establish lasting impact for the Cocoa & Forests Initiative. For that to happen, government and industry need to work together to mobilize sustainable funding, especially for the key areas of protection and restoration of National parks and Classified Forests. We need to further involve communities to improve livelihoods and ensure full engagement in forest protection, addressing critical issues such as the carbon footprint and biodiversity. We must also implement our actions in the context of a collaborative and landscape approach.

The Cocoa & Forests Initiative has come a long way in a short time. But the journey is far from over. We urge other technical and financial partners to join our efforts this year and help us accelerate progress to ensure that future generations can enjoy Côte d’Ivoire’s rich and beautiful natural heritage.

The Cocoa & Forests Initiative has come a long way in a short time. But the journey is far from over. We urge other technical and financial partners to join our efforts this year and help us accelerate progress to ensure that future generations can enjoy Côte d’Ivoire’s rich and beautiful natural heritage.

Alain-Richard Donwahi and Richard Scobey Minister of Water and Forests of Côte d’Ivoire and President of the World Cocoa Foundation.