Chocolate bar may be killing forests in W. Africa

Reuters
Your afternoon chocolate bar may be fueling climate change, destroying protected forests and threatening elephants, chimpanzees and hippos in West Africa, research suggests.
Reuters

Your afternoon chocolate bar may be fueling climate change, destroying protected forests and threatening elephants, chimpanzees and hippos in West Africa, research suggests.

Well-known brands, such as Mars and Nestle, are buying through global traders cocoa that is grown illegally in dwindling national parks and reserves in Ivory Coast and Ghana, environmental group Mighty Earth said.

“Every consumer of chocolate is a part of either the problem or the solution,” said Etelle Higonnet, campaign director at Mighty Earth.

“You can choose to buy ethical chocolate. Or you’re voting with your dollar for deforestation.”

Nestle did not immediately respond to requests for comment while Mars said in an e-mail: “We take a responsible approach to sourcing cocoa and have committed to source 100 percent certified sustainable cocoa by 2020.”

Both companies have committed to joining the Cocoa and Forests Initiative, a major effort to end deforestation in the global cocoa supply chain, launched in March.

Almost one-third of 23 protected natural areas in Ivory Coast that researchers visited in 2015 had been almost entirely converted to illegal cocoa plantations, the report said.

Researchers said the practice is so widespread that villages of tens of thousands of people, churches and schools, have sprung up in national parks to support the cocoa economy.

Ivory Coast, Francophone West Africa’s biggest economy, is the world’s top cocoa grower.

While the bulk of its one million cocoa farmers ply their trade legally, Washington-based Mighty Earth estimates about a third of cocoa is grown illegally in protected areas.

Deforestation for cocoa happens in sight of authorities and chocolate traders are aware of it, they said.

Loss of natural forests is problematic because they act as a home for the region’s wildlife, and a key weapon against climate change, absorbing carbon dioxide — a major driver of climate change — as they grow.

Available land for new cocoa plantations in Ivory Coast ran out long ago, so farmers have moved into parks and reserves, taking advantage of a decade of political crisis that ended in 2011.

Ivory Coast now has 2.5 million hectares of natural forest, according to European Union figures.


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