Cocoa Initiative Makes Progress in Saving West Africa’s Forests

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Author Ethan Budiansky

Director of Environment
World Cocoa Foundation

The year 2020 had barely started when everything shut down due to the global pandemic. While I was lucky to be able to work from home, I was also worried that the crisis could halt progress and momentum we had in the Cocoa & Forests Initiative (CFI), a partnership of the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and 35 cocoa and chocolate companies to save and restore forests. In the first two years we had made a lot of progress building partnerships and trust and setting priorities to eliminate deforestation from the cocoa sector. In 2020, we aimed at accelerating action and scaling impact.

Then COVID happened.

Cocoa and chocolate companies acted quickly to provide health and financial donations and support the governments to help communities where cocoa is grown. Given the health risks and travel restrictions, I was concerned that our work would come to a halt.

But I was wrong. The CFI partners quickly adapted to the new situation and continued their crucial work.

This is shown in the results.

  • Sustainable cocoa farmer Comfort Owusuaa in Ghana

    Comfort Owusuaaa, Cocoa Farmer, Ghana

    Comfort benefited from training by agronomists to cultivate vegetables to improve nutrition in the community and generate extra income, especially during light crop seasons.

  • Headshot of sustainable cocoa farmer in Cote d'Ivoire Ekra Yao Blaise

    Ekra Yao Blaise, Cocoa Farmer, Côte d’Ivoire

    Ekra Yao Blaise and 76 other farmers are part of the Hana River Project, working to create a 20-meter natural barrier between their cocoa farms and the winding river, fostering biodiversity and the regeneration of natural ecosystems.

  • Sustainable cocoa farmer on cocoa farm in Cote dIvoire

    Lucas, Cocoa Farmer, Côte d’Ivoire

    Lucas is part of a co-designed Cocoa & Forests Initiative company community program for socialization, seedling distribution, technical assistance, training sessions, environmental awareness raising, monitoring, and long-term engagement to ensure sustainability and success.

  • Photo of sustainable cocoa farmer Hamidu Isaka

    Hamidu Isaka, Community Development Manager, Ghana

    Hamidu helps cocoa farmers acquire key skills and knowledge to improve their lives and communities by employing responsible labor practices, professionalizing their farms, increasing productivity, and increasing resilience against climate change.

Companies are continuing their investments in supporting farmers to integrate forest trees on their cocoa farms through cocoa agroforestry, as well as planting trees to restore degraded lands. They have distributed 6 million non-cocoa trees in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. This brings the total number of forest trees supplied by the private sector since the launch of CFI to 10.4 million. We have also taken big steps in improving traceability to understand where the cocoa in company supply chains is coming from. Companies are continuously investing in keeping their traceability systems up to date with farm mapping, unique farmer IDs and actively tracing cocoa to the farm level. This past year, the private sector mapped over 605,000 cocoa farms and achieved full traceability in 82% of their direct supply chains in Ghana and 74% in Côte d’Ivoire.

Companies are also investing in large scale farmer training for better livelihoods and less incentive to encroach into forests. More than 620,000 farmers were trained in Good Agricultural Practices to grow more cocoa on less land and 346,000 farmers were trained to adapt their practices to climate change.

Sustainable woman cocoa farmer Portia Sani stands in cocoa seedling nursery holding sustainable cocoa tree
Portia Sani stands in cocoa nursery in Sefwi Elluokrom, Ghana.

Portia Sani, from Sefwi Elluokrom in the Western North region of Ghana, is one of those farmers. Under CFI programs, she trained in mixing native shade trees with her cocoa trees. This has not only improved her yields, which support her family of six, but also protected her trees from the increasingly unpredictable weather caused by climate change.

Comparing with neighboring farms, which are not part of the program, I realize that they face many more difficulties during the dry season. Their cocoa trees end up in very bad shape, and sometimes even die!” she said.

We also want farmers to invest in their farms and their communities. Thanks to company programs, 240,000 farmers now have access to financial products. Additionally, almost 62,000 people are enrolled in Village Savings and Loan Associations, which traditionally have benefited women.

We have achieved a lot over the past year but there is still much to do before forests are fully saved. Our aim for this year and 2022 is to step up collaborations between the private sector, local and traditional governments, communities, and NGOs to accelerate sustainable land use in cocoa landscapes. We will also focus our efforts on restoring more degraded land and promoting agroforestry, in line with new forest codes. Finally, we would like to see implementation of national traceability systems, as well as robust national systems of satellite imagery and deforestation alerts fully implemented to better monitor our progress.

We have learned so much this year from the challenges and difficulties affecting people around the world. The pandemic has emphasized the link between biodiversity conservation and global health. It reminds us that we are all linked, across borders, from cocoa farmers to chocolate consumers, and that our collective destiny is based on the well-being of all.