An inflating global appetite for chocolate is resulting in rapidly increasing illegal deforestation in Ivory Coast and Ghana, the environmental group Mighty Earth has found.
Ivory Coast’s rainforest cover has fallen by 80% since 1960; if nothing is done, it is predicted that by 2030 there will be no forest left. This deforestation has pushed the country’s chimpanzees into a few small pockets, and reduced the elephant population from several hundred thousand to an estimated 200-400.
Cocoa beans grown illegally in protected areas are being mixed in with ‘clean’ beans, then sold by traders to Mars, Nestlé, Hersheys, Godiva and the other chocolate giants who also adopt a laissez-faire approach to sourcing.
Illegal farmers burn down protected trees one by one, believing that recently deforested soil produces the biggest cocoa beans. The sad irony is that in years to come, as seasons become more parched due to deforestation, these farmers will miss the shade that the felled trees would have provided for their cocoa plants.
These farmers, however, can hardly be blamed. They are often paid less than 80 cents per day, working long hours in dangerous conditions. Child labour is also still prevalent. The farmers are so poor they could never afford to eat the products they make. It is Westerners who enjoy the products, and the multinational conglomerates who see the vast majority of the profits.
Finding these farmers, many of whom have been growing cocoa inside protected areas for decades, new means of income is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to tackling deforestation. How companies and governments propose to do this will be one of the issues addressed at the UN’s Convention on Climate Change in November, when many cocoa giants have pledged to present a framework for action on deforestation and forest degradation. Whether they can agree on a comprehensive and far-reaching plan of action remains to be seen.
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