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Stopping deforestation in cocoa: To go far, go together

A deforestation-free cocoa supply chain is possible. How do we know? Because we can see it taking shape in West Africa.

May 24, 2023

“When you plant a tree the first year, you can wait up to four years before you start harvesting the first cocoa pods,” says Kone Yaya, a cocoa grower from Côte d’Ivoire’s Bossoha region. Working with Cargill and our partner PUR, he has been using agroforestry techniques to improve his plantation.

In essence, that means, he’s now also planting non-cocoa trees at his plantation. Combining cocoa trees with other species has many advantages, including increased soil fertility and biodiversity, as well as improved natural carbon storage. But it also means improved cocoa yields, says Kone.

Deforestation-free cocoa supply chain “When the sun rays start to hit hard, it disturbs the cocoa tree,” he explains. “The field needs a certain amount of shade to enhance humidity on the tree, so it can germinate and then produce the right fruit quality. And when the leaves fall, they become fertilizer.”

Since 2019, Cargill and PUR have worked with smallholder cocoa farmers in West Africa to apply agroforestry practices that help regenerate local ecosystems while boosting yields and improving farmer livelihoods. When Kone joined this project, he started to see the change. “Almost every farmer started to plant the trees together. We must protect the trees, and then protect the forest,” he said.

Watch: Meet cocoa farmer and agroforestry practitioner Kone Yaya.


Progress through technology and community

Cargill is committed to making its agricultural supply chains free of deforestation by 2030. The Policy on Forests lays out the broad strokes of its approach. But every supply chain and every region are different. The overarching sustainability program for cocoa is the Cargill Cocoa Promise in which the company includes the Protect our Planet goal and action plan to transform its cocoa supply chain to be deforestation-free.  To achieve that goal, Cargill works with multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the Cocoa & Forests Initiative (CFI).

The CFI is a public-private partnership that unites 36 leading cocoa and chocolate companies, along with the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) and IDH, the Sustainable Trade Initiative to end cocoa-related deforestation and restore valuable forest areas in those countries.

In the face of a new phase of partnership with the CFI, Sebastiaan van der Hoek who is the climate and land use advisor in Cargill, said: “Collaboration is key. If CFI has proved one thing, it’s that together, we can go further. And from our position at the center of the global supply chain, Cargill can connect the dots to maximize our combined impact.”

Across Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, Cargill is using GPS polygon mapping to collect information about farm boundaries. 90% of farmers in its direct supply chain in Côte d’Ivoire and 69% in Ghana have a GPS polygon map for all plots. In this way, the company can detect deforestation hot spots and engage directly with farmers and other stakeholders to address them.

We’re also helping farmer organizations expand the use of barcodes and other digital management systems to ensure their cocoa beans’ traceability, so this helps farmers to comply with the global food makers demands to be able to show that their ingredients were sourced from plantations managed in line with good agricultural practices.

But behind the hard data and technology, what drives much of the progress is relationship-building and community engagement. The tailored agroforestry and digital skills training Cargill offers farmers are one example of that approach. Another one is the innovative theater project that went from town to town in Côte d’Ivoire to raise awareness of that country’s Forest Code.

A new Forest Code was adopted and published in 2019 by the government of Côte d'Ivoire. It provides the regulatory framework for action to preserve, extend and restore the country’s forest cover, including new directions for forest management, promoting agroforestry and land tenure security through public-private collaboration. Many farmers do not know the new Forest Code and its provisions to address ownership of land and trees. Securing land and tree rights is a key predictor of higher productivity and lower pressure on forests, and can incentivize the adoption of agroforestry practices.

In collaboration with PUR and the multimedia company Alma Production, a play told the story of the cocoa farmers who have to struggle with illegal wood cutters. Along the way, audiences learned about environmental and social issues affecting their communities and about their land rights.

In 2022, more than 6,000 people from 10 communities linked to the COOPAWEB cooperative, which is one of Cargill’s suppliers, attended the play.

Next phase: Continue scaling up efforts

“We’re going to keep doing what works, and finding smart ways to tackle the environmental, social and economic challenges cocoa farmers are facing,” said Van der Hoek. “Also, we have to pay attention to the interconnectedness between deforestation, climate and biodiversity and the importance of taking a holistic approach to tackling all while continuing to support farmer livelihoods.”

Cargill’s new CFI action plan includes broadened engagement with other companies, governments, and NGOs, as well as doubling down on technologies like GPS polygon mapping and barcoding for first-mile traceability.

The company will keep supporting farmers and communities with agroforestry and climate-smart cocoa practices.  The goal is to work towards a cocoa sector that is responsible, resilient and starts reversing the effects of deforestation.

“It’s too early to declare victory, but we know that when we focus our efforts, we can bring deforestation to a standstill,” said Van der Hoek.

Planting for the future

Community tree nurseries Back in Bohossa, Ouatara Kalidjatou says things have changed since she arrived in 1994. She works in one of eight community tree nurseries that have been established with the help of Cargill and PUR, and one of the three which are managed by women.

In the tree nurseries, they plant the seeds that will grow into shade trees for the cocoa plantations. “This project has changed our daily life,” Ouatara goes on. “When my oldest daughter works with me, I like it because I know she will become independent. And will be a model for her own children.”

Kone Yaya shares that sentiment. “When I look at the orchard now, it makes me happy.  That’s the future of the children. Everybody would like to plant trees to gain happiness.”

Watch: Ouatara Kalidjatou shows the tree nursery.


By the numbers

Every year, Cocoa & Forests Initiative members report on their progress. Here are the highlights of what Cargill together with its implementation partners achieved in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana during 2022:

  • 90% of farmers in our direct sustainable supply chain in Côte d’Ivoire and 69% in Ghana have fully GPS polygon mapped their operations.

  • 90% of directly sourced cocoa in Côte d’Ivoire and 70% in Ghana are digitally traceable back to the first point of purchase.

  • 1.25 million multi-purpose trees were planted in cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire and more than 177,000 multi-purpose trees were distributed to farms in Ghana.

  • Almost 18,000 new farmers took up cocoa agroforestry in both countries.

  • Less than 0.01% observed gross primary forest loss since 2014 within our mapped cocoa supply chain in both countries.

Learn more about the progress made in 2022 with the Cocoa & Forest Initiative.

Video Credits: © Morgan Jouquand / Unforeseen Studio.

Photo Credits: @Hussein Makke / Unforeseen Studio