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Informing the journey towards zero deforestation 

November 15, 2019

Cargill’s efforts to end deforestation within our direct cocoa supply chain have been progressing apace. In 2018, we introduced our Protect Our Planet Strategic Action Plan, a five-prong pathway for reducing our environmental impact, including ending deforestation and promoting restoration. We have since gathered valuable insights about the risks of deforestation in areas where we source cocoa and are using these to deliver on our commitment towards the Cocoa & Forests Initiative (CFI), with the aim to progressively scale our learnings across our entire direct supply chain by 2030.

Cocoa trees flourish under very specific conditions. A healthy ecosystem that balances cocoa cultivation and forest conservation is crucial for long-term, sustainable cocoa production. However, when the benefits of forests are not understood, or where Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) are not applied, cocoa farming can jeopardize these conditions. Given these and other factors that can contribute to deforestation, it is vital that we don’t just identify at-risk areas, but also understand the underlying causes in order to deploy the right interventions in the right place.

Technology plays a key role here. To help identify at-risk areas, we first collect data about the farms from which we source cocoa. Using GPS mapping and farm surveys, we collect digital information on farm perimeters, shade tree coverage, productivity and crop health. We’re committed to mapping all the farms in our direct supply chain, and so far, we have mapped more than 100,000 farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and 19,200 farmers in Ghana.

To define on how to best work with farmers and farmer organizations to address underlying causes, we work closely with partners to understand the local context and then to design targeted and relevant solutions that address the challenges in question.

In Côte d’Ivoire, for instance, field assessments conducted by PUR Projet have been crucial to identifying the wider socio-economic causes of deforestation and forest degradation. Our experience shows us that community-based agroforestry – the integration of trees onto farms or into the wider landscape – can help tackle some of these underlying causes. Besides improving soil fertility and habitats, different tree species grown on cocoa farms can provide alternative sources of income such as fruits, nuts or fibers, and on the longer-term sustainably harvested timber. Planting trees also helps to stabilize cocoa yields by creating a favorable microclimate and supporting pollination. This triggers a virtuous cycle that increases incomes for individual farmers and improves communities’ economic resilience. 

Our agroforestry programs typically involve a preliminary phase where we work with farmers to select appropriate tree species and identify a suitable planting design, after which we order seedlings and organize trainings on tree planting and maintenance. We then distribute seedlings to farmer communities, who plant and nurture them with help of locally employed agroforestry technicians within the farmer cooperatives.

Between 2018 and 2019, our community-based interventions in Cote d’Ivoire led to the planting of over 320,000 shade trees, thanks to the engagement of 3,000 farmers across 12 cooperatives.

Cocoa communities have been keen to learn more about how they can restore their lands and make their cocoa production more sustainability through agroforestry. Diomande Moussa, a cooperative technician specialized in the follow-up of agroforestry activities, said, “My motivation for this project stems from the story of a tree I planted in 5th grade. Today I feel proud when I see this tree; it somehow reminds me that planting a tree is bringing a new life on earth. Planting a tree is saying yes to life and no to climate change.”

Throughout this process, our partners at PUR Projet help us remain grounded. Andrew Nobrega, PUR Projet’s Director for North America, notes, “Engaging cooperatives and farmers from the beginning has been essential. Lack of communications and alignment between all stakeholders can be a major barrier, especially in projects with this scale.” He adds, “By onboarding communities earlier on to co-design solutions that truly work for them, we’re seeing tangible results and creating an enabling environment for sustainable farming practices and ecosystem protection to thrive.” 

As well as providing technical assistance to farmers, we aim to achieve wider impact by connecting all stakeholders in the cocoa value chain. Together we are setting out to promote incentive schemes to cover additional labor requirements, support land tenure and advantageous property rights, establish market linkages, and conduct long-term monitoring and assessment. Ultimately, we want to develop viable economic income models for farmers that fully capture benefits of agroforestry.

This is how we will deliver on the Cargill Cocoa Promise going forward: by protecting our planet’s natural resources while also ensuring the cocoa farmers we work with, and the communities we work in, can thrive.