World Cocoa Foundation chairman Barry Parkin says the unprecedented deal signed by 21 cocoa companies with Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire at COP23 this week will introduce climate-smart farming practices and lift hundreds of thousands from poverty

A ground-breaking agreement to end deforestation in West Africa has been signed at the COP23 climate talks in Bonn this week.

Barry Parkin, who is chief sustainability officer of Mars, Inc, and chairman of the World Cocoa Foundation, said in an interview with Ethical Corporation that the agreement, signed between 21 companies and the world’s biggest cocoa-producing countries, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, is unprecedented.

“Those two countries account for around 60% of the world’s cocoa. The key here is having the governments and industry working on this. That is unique. I don’t think it has really happened in any other commodity, so we are breaking new ground here.”

The Cocoa & Forests Initiative is the result of a meeting convened by the Prince of Wales in March, where 12 companies in the cocoa supply chain, including Cargill, Olam, Ferrero, Mondelēz International, The Hershey Company and Nestlé, met with government ministers from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and signed a statement of intent to come up with a framework for action in time for this week’s climate summit in Bonn. Dutch-based IDH, the sustainable trade initiative, acted as convenor of the private sector and governments. Signatories to the Cocoa & Forests Initiative have since grown to 35 companies, representing more than 80% of the world’s cocoa users, though only 21 have so far signed the frameworks.

There are hundreds of thousands of people living in those protected forests and we need to develop a plan that tackles environmental and social issues together

Central to the frameworks is a commitment to no further conversion of any forest land for cocoa production and stronger enforcement of national forest policies.  It will also restore forests that have been degraded from illegal cocoa planting as well as from other commodities such as palm oil and mining, which has caused Cote D’Ivoire’s forest cover to fall from 12m hectares to less than 3m ha since 1960.  

One of the biggest challenges will be developing alternative livelihoods for affected smallholder farmers, Parkin said.  “This is not just an environmental issue. It’s a social, economic and environmental issue rolled into one. It will be extremely challenging to solve, because there are hundreds of thousands of people living in communities in those protected forests, and we need to develop a plan that tackles both the environmental and social issues together.”

Credit: Mars,Inc

Promoting SDG2

The frameworks signed with both countries both call for what the World Cocoa Foundation describes as the sustainable intensification of cocoa production, doubling the amount of cocoa that will be grown on each hectare of land. At the same time, single-crop cocoa plantations will be replaced with a model that intercrops cocoa with a mix of shade crops, hardwood trees, and other cash crops, providing smallholder farmers a second source of income, boosting food security and nutrition for communities, and improving the health of the soil so that it sequesters carbon, Parkin said. This addresses the second Sustainable Development Goal, on ending hunger and improving nutrition, head on.

Rather than see smallholder farmers as the bad guys who chop down trees, the opportunity is to see smallholder farmers as the heroes of climate action

Importantly for the world, there are also significant climate benefits.  “There is three times as much carbon protected in agricultural soil as the air,” Parkin said. “This is a massive vehicle of change. Rather than seeing smallholder farmers as the bad guys who went into the forest and chopped down trees to grow crops and denuded the soil of nutrients, the opportunity is to see smallholder farmers as the heroes of climate action.”

This is an approach that is already yielding results in Côte D’Ivoire, where Mars is working with its supplier Barry Callebout through the Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming  to end cocoa monoculture and at least double the incomes of smallholder farmers. Mars is focusing on the one million smallholders who produce its ingredients in its $1bn Sustainable in a Generation sustainability plan, which aims to cut two-thirds of the CO2 in its entire value chain by 2050.

“I was in Côte D’Ivoire two weeks ago and saw one of our first programmes in this area. We’ve had 600 farmers plant half a hectare of land at a time with this mixed agriculture, and it’s fantastic. We saw maize growing 2 metres high, cocoa planted in absolutely straight rows instead of a monocrop of out-of-control dense canopy. … These farmers are now sequestering carbon both in improved management of the soil and in the trees that they are planting.”

WCF president Richard Scobey signs the framework agreements with Cote D'Ivoire forests minister Richard Donwahi and Ghana natural resources minister John Peter Amewu. (credit Cocoa & Forests Initiative)

As well as the promoting agro-forestry practices, the chocolate and cocoa industry will put in place verifiable monitoring systems for traceability from farm to the first purchase point for their own purchases of cocoa, working with the governments to ensure an effective national framework for traceability for all traders in the supply chain. 

This is a huge opportunity to bring sustainable development to the forest frontier

Civil society groups hailed the agreements and promised their support. Nigel Sizer, president of the Rainforest Alliance, said certification programmes by Rainforest Alliance, UTZ, and the Fairtrade Foundation will be able to help verify the cocoa industry’s progress on ending deforestation and give confidence to consumers. “We are ready to roll up our sleeves and with our team on the ground help with the challenging work ahead with communities, farmers and companies.” 

Marco Albani, director of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, said his organisation also stood ready to support the effort: “Sustainable intensification of smallholders’ estate crops like cocoa is a huge opportunity for delivering sustainable development at the forest frontier, and a collaboration between business, government and civil society is critical for capturing it at scale.”

See also: Thinking small to tackle cocoa deforestation, Mars leads push to lift 500m smallholders out of poverty, Prince of Wales brokers pact to end cocoa deforestation

Main image credit: Cocoa Action




IDH  Cocoa & Forests Initiative  World Cocoa Foundation  Mars  Inc  SDG2  supply chains  cocoa  deforestation  COP23  Tropical Forest Alliance 2020  Rainforest Alliance  Prince of Wales Sustainability Unit 

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