Deforestation-free supply chains: The Ivory Coast’s path to sustainable cocoa

Deforestation-free supply chains: The Ivory Coast’s path to sustainable cocoa
Copyright euronews
Copyright euronews
By Cyril FournerisEuronews
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Euronews Reporter Cyril Fourneris travels to the Ivory Coast, the Netherlands and Brussels to follow the cocoa supply chain and learn how sustainable and exploration-free chocolate is better for the planet and the livelihoods of producers.

People in Switzerland consume the most chocolate per capita than anywhere else on Earth. According to the German data platform Statistica, the average person in the Alpine nation consumed 11.8 kg of chocolate or products made from cocoa in 2022. 

The European chocolate market is expanding with a projected annual growth rate of 4.95 per cent from 2022-2027. While chocolate sales are on the rise, there are growing concerns about the ethicality of chocolate supply chains in Brussels; cocoa production has long been linked to child labour, exploitation and deforestation. 

The Ivory Coast, the world's leading cocoa producer, has reportedly lost more than 90 per cent of its dense forests since 1950, the clearing of trees to make way for cacao plantations is a key factor.

The European Union imports 50 per cent of the Ivory Coast's cocoa yields but from 2025, the sale of any product derived from deforestation will be banned in the EU as part of the EUDR – the European Union’s Regulation on deforestation-free products.

A tenth of the Ivory Coast's GDP comes from its cacao plantations. The West African country is working with the EU to ensure:

  • cocoa can be traced back to the producer
  • environmentally-friendly farming practices are used 
  • growers receive a fair wage
We can't stand by helplessly and watch this forest disappear!
Colonel Alain Toulo
Ivorian Office of Parks and Reserves (OIPR)

The lush Mabi-Yaya Forest was recently declared a protected area however, paramilitaries tasked with protecting the reserve have found evidence of illegal cacao plantations across the 294 km2 site.

"Here are the cacao plants. What happens is they set fire to the big trees. And once these trees die, the cacao immediately has access to light and produces. Some forests have disappeared because of the extensive cultivation of cocoa," Colonel Alain Toulo, from the Ivorian Office of Parks and Reserves (OIPR), told Euronews.

One of the EU's objectives is to ensure that the cocoa planted in the Ivory Coast's protected areas never reaches Europe. Cooperatives like Cayat, pioneers in cocoa traceability, are trying to ensure that that doesn't happen. Cayat's products are tagged before they are shipped so they can be traced back to the grower.

"If you scan this bag, it will tell you which producer it comes from... It's fully traceable, we know where it's been produced," Robert Yao Nguettia, the General Secretary for Cayat told Euronews.

Cayat sells its cocoa at a higher price. All 3,300 of its members are committed to improving the welfare of growers and tackling deforestation. Farmers who sell their produce to these companies are not only guaranteed a better wage but also receive an environmental premium when they take on more sustainable cultivation practices; more sustainable methods generate higher yields. 

"Previously, growers thought that they could earn money by farming extensively. But in reality, they couldn't even maintain what was left behind. To combat deforestation, we need to get people to produce a lot from a small area," added Nguettia.

A national traceability system

The Ivory Coast is developing a national traceability system which will geolocate every cocoa plantation and from there, estimate output and digitalise payments. "Anyone who doesn't hold a card will not be able to sell their cocoa," explained Yves Brahima Koné, the Managing Director of the Conseil Café Cacao in Abidjan.

"If we make cacao traceable, the market has to accept it. By giving the cards to the farmers, we can pay a premium to the farmers in the Ivory Coast. This cocoa must be awarded and paid for as such," said Koné.

The Ivory Coast has also produced a land-use map to comply with the EU's new deforestation regulations to help exporters prove that their products do not come from deforested areas.

Chocolate - the ethical way

Back in Europe, traders are also preparing for the new regulations. From 2025, companies that cannot prove they have deforestation-free supply chains will risk heavy fines. They could even see their products banned from the Common Market.

The Netherlands is the world's biggest importer of cocoa, so, it might come as no surprise that a Dutch confectionary company is leading the charge when it comes to producing sustainable and exploitation-free chocolate. 

Tony's Chocolonely pays 50 per cent more for its cocoa than the market price and is one of Cayat's members.

"We really welcome the EUDR regulation because it's raising the expectations of the industry. Once you know who your farmers are and where they are located, you can start working with cooperatives and farming families to find solutions," said Katie Sims, Partnership Manager (co-op strategy lead), at Tony's Chocolonely. 

This is a call to all companies in the industry to pay a higher price. That will challenge the underlying issues of poverty that create deforestation and child labour in supply chains.
Katie Sims, Partnership Manager (co-op strategy lead)
Tony's Chocolonely

Why Europeans should be concerned about deforestation

Virginijus Sinkevičius, the European Commissioner for the Environment, is one of the architects of the EUDR. He explained to Euronews why deforestation is such a problem: "We are nearing the moment when carbon sinks are becoming carbon emitters. And I think that would be a huge disaster, which you can't reverse either with policy or technology".

Carbon sinks absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Deforestation is, therefore, making air pollution worse, it also contributes to soil erosion, the loss of biomass and harms biodiversity.

"I think it's important to look at it not as a challenge, but as an opportunity. The EU has put real action on the table. The implementation, which first of all requires geolocalisation data of the land plot, is quite simple to get these days. Secondly, that of course needs to be verifiable. But at the end of the day, that would ensure that the Europeans are not part of the issue, but part of the solution," said Sinkevičius.

For Cyril's full report, click on the video in the media player above.

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