Your Chocolate and Biodiversity: Our Solutions are in Nature

Sustainability, cocoa sustainability, sustainable cocoa, why is sustainability important, sustainability defined, sustainability movement, cocoa plant, cocoa bean, cacao, raw cacao, deforestation, what is deforestation

Author Ethan Budiansky

Director of Environment
World Cocoa Foundation

Did you know that midges play a role in making your chocolate? Insects pollinate flowers all over the world to start off the process of forming vegetables and fruits. And yes, cocoa pods, full of the fragrant beans that are the core ingredient in chocolate, come from tiny white flowers, visited by pollinating insects such as midges.

UN Day of Biodiversity is coming up (May 22), and I can’t think of a better example of human’s dependency on healthy ecosystems than these midges. Insects are also a great icon for this year’s Day of Biodiversity theme: “Our solutions are in nature”.

Conserving the power of nature is at the heart of the Cocoa & Forests Initiative, a partnership between the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the world’s largest cocoa producers, and cocoa and chocolate companies. We published our first report on the Initiative and want to go through a number of frequently asked questions on how our efforts relate to biodiversity, and notably how agroforestry – agriculture incorporating the cultivation and conservation of trees – is our favored “solution in nature”.

How can chocolate protect biodiversity?

With the Cocoa & Forests Initiative, we are working on ending cocoa-related deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. This has three major implications for biodiversity:

  • First, forests are one of the most diverse ecosystems on land, so protecting them is a priority for biodiversity. Cocoa & Forests Initiative companies are, for instance, distributing trees for off farm planting to regenerate forests, eliminating all sourcing of cocoa from forested areas and ensuring that cocoa production does not cause future deforestation.
  • Second, deforestation is a driver of climate change, which threatens biodiversity. If forests are protected, this will in turn slow down climate change and reduce biodiversity loss. The Cocoa & Forests Initiative is working in collaboration with international standards (High Carbon Stock approach and High Conservation Value) to ensure we are able to prioritize areas with high carbon sequestration and/or rich biodiversity.
  • Third, we are actively promoting the widespread use of cocoa agroforestry through the distribution of trees, farmer training, and helping to build market linkages to ensure farmers can sell more than just cocoa.

Does cocoa agroforestry promote biodiversity?

As part of the Cocoa & Forests Initiative, cocoa and chocolate companies have distributed more than four million multipurpose trees for cocoa agroforestry in 2018-2019. Why? More trees planted on farms reduce the impact of climate change, and also provide more habitats for a diverse flora and fauna such as our midges. The key function of agroforestry systems is to conserve and enhance this invisible biodiversity responsible for key processes such as pollination.

Cocoa agroforestry directly benefits the environment by increasing the canopy cover, protecting watersheds, and replenishing degraded soils. When done right, it can even directly benefit the regeneration of nearby forests and provide biodiversity corridors for wild animals to move from one intact area to the next. Agroforestry can also be established in buffer zones around forested areas to decrease encroachment.

This sustainable cocoa production in turns helps farmers grow, over the long term, more cocoa on less land. If farms are productive and can sustain communities, farmers will be less inclined to destroy  forests to plant more cocoa.

How do cocoa farmers benefit from protecting biodiversity?

A lot of the challenges that farmers currently face (climate change, irregular weather, pests and disease) are directly linked to practices that have reduced biodiversity. Deforestation and agricultural expansion have negatively impacted farms by degrading natural conditions. For instance, less biodiversity leads to fewer pollinators, and less cocoa.

Planting forest trees provides significant direct environmental services to farmers: a healthier farm, healthy habitat for pollinators, water retention, reduction of hot winds, natural enrichment of soils (with nitrogen fixing trees such as gliricidia or acacia), and reduction of pests and disease. Agroforestry can even provide new sources of income (fruits with mango trees and kola nut trees; or hardwood) or community services (firewood, fodder for animals…).

What is the next step to further protect biodiversity in cocoa areas?

As we accelerate implementation of the Cocoa & Forests Initiative, we look at ways to better integrate collaboration and investments across cocoa landscapes. How do we work in a landscape where we think about the balance between intact forests, wild animals – large and small-, forest restoration, cocoa agroforestry and other human activities? How do we empower all levels of stakeholders within the community, from traditional chiefs to the public and private sector to women and youths?

Nature has shown us how humans, flora and fauna must thrive together or face harsh consequences. This can be done, with your chocolate.