High Carbon Stock Forests, Cocoa, and the Fight Against Climate Change

How do you define what constitutes a forest in a cocoa-growing landscape? What forests contribute to removing the most carbon from our atmosphere? Where are the most important reservoirs of biodiversity in West Africa? What should the priority areas be that cocoa and chocolate companies and cocoa producing countries protect to have maximum impact as part of the Cocoa & Forests Initiative?

To help answer these questions, on March 29, 2019, the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) and the High Carbon Stock Approach Steering Group signed a memorandum of understanding to advance commitments to ending deforestation and forest degradation in the cocoa supply chain, notably in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. This collaboration will contribute to the achievement of numerous multilateral and corporate commitments to conserve High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests and High Conservation Value (HCV) areas that have high carbon, biodiversity and social values in tropical forest countries. Ethan Budiansky, WCF’s Director of Environment, and Judy Rodrigues, Executive Director of the High Carbon Stock Approach, explain what they want to achieve together.

What is the High Carbon Stock Approach?

Judy Rodrigues: Tropical natural forests hold large stores of carbon and biodiversity and are vital for millions of people for basic livelihood and cultural needs. Despite the increasing global awareness and efforts to protect forests, they are being destroyed at a rate of 13 million hectares a year, with over half this area lost in tropical forests. This is leading to the release of carbon emissions, loss of carbon storage and biodiversity, and severe impacts on forest-dependent communities.

The High Carbon Stock (HCS) Approach is a widely-recognized practical, field-tested methodology to implement commitments to halt deforestation in the tropics, while ensuring the rights and livelihoods of local peoples are respected. This has allowed major plantations and supply chain actors to reduce their impact by not clearing or purchasing goods from HCS forests that have high carbon, biodiversity and social values. The HCS Approach is being implemented in ten countries (Malaysia, Indonesia, Liberia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands), has aided the prevention of deforestation of several million hectares of tropical forests and has over 575,000 hectares of HCS forests that are being conserved. The methodology is not country-, region-, nor commodity-specific; however, initial development, trialing and implementation focused primarily on fragmented landscapes, in Asia Pacific and Africa, and with palm oil and pulp and paper plantations. We are excited to partner with WCF to expand our work to the cocoa sector, notably in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

How can the HCS Approach contribute to fighting deforestation in the cocoa supply chain?

Ethan Budiansky: At WCF, as we move into implementation of the Cocoa & Forests Initiative in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, we need a proven methodology to identify forest areas that should be a priority for protection as part of a broader landscape-level approach. This includes establishing forest corridors to connect fragmented forests. The HCS Approach is a credible land use planning tool for no-deforestation implementation and integrated conservation while respecting the rights and aspiration of local communities. We think that Cocoa & Forests Initiative signatories and other relevant stakeholders in the cocoa sector should pilot, implement and apply the HCS Approach methodology when determining priority areas to protect. Our collaboration with HCSA will generate synergy and collaborative actions in key cocoa sector tropical forest growing regions, in alignment with the interest and scope of each organization. The collaboration will generate a series of results that will benefit the cocoa sector in its ability to achieve its no-deforestation commitment and responsible land use management in tropical forest regions, with a particular focus on West Africa.

What are concrete next steps for this collaboration?

Both: First, we will start with a collective exercise on stakeholder mapping, that will notably identify cocoa frontiers and stakeholders in those landscapes where cocoa is expanding and implementation of the HCS Approach will be beneficial. It will also map out the most effective areas for rights-based restoration and creation of forest corridors. Second, we will engage with companies, governments and other partners to update the Cocoa & Forests Initiative action plans and organize HCS Approach trials in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Third, we will work with key stakeholders to further pilot the HCS Approach, including a focus on smallholder farmers in the field, and share learnings to identify opportunities to scale-up impact.