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Research: Cocoa beans exported from Côte d'Ivoire linked to deforestation in Liberia
FoodBev Media

FoodBev Media

24 April 2024

Research: Cocoa beans exported from Côte d'Ivoire linked to deforestation in Liberia

The results of an investigation revealed during the World Cocoa Conference 2024 in Brussels, Belgium, showed that companies sourcing cocoa from Côte d'Ivoire, West Africa, are contributing to the destruction of forests in neighbouring Liberia. Initiatives for Community Development and Forest Conservation (IDEF) representative Bakary Traoré presented findings from the field investigation, emphasising that the traceability systems used by these companies are flawed and fail to meet the new anti-deforestation regulation published on 9 June 2023, in the Official Journal of the European Union. The researchers recommend that these flawed mechanisms be replaced with Côte d'Ivoire's robust and transparent national traceability system. Traoré said: "Work is currently underway in Côte d'Ivoire to set up a national traceability system. Under this system, all plots of land in Côte d'Ivoire will be geolocated, and producers will be registered. A map of producers, including a barcode system, will also indicate what individual farms are able to produce and track their sales. Our investigation shows the importance of speeding up the work begun by the Ivorian authorities." "Current traceability systems were set up by the chocolate companies and are controlled by them. They are not transparent, and our investigation found them to be flawed. To resolve the problem and comply with new European regulations, traders in raw materials will have to change their approach." The demand for cocoa is surging worldwide. Before cocoa beans become chocolate as we know it – enjoyed by billions – the beans move through a complex market involving various intermediaries between small, low-paid cocoa farmers and retailers. This system has contributed to the deforestation of thousands of hectares of cocoa plantations. In June 2023, the EU introduced the European Union Deforestation Regulation (EUDR), set to take effect in December 2024, which will make it illegal to import and sell cocoa beans sourced from land deforested after 2020. The new regulation offers a unique chance to tackle long-standing deforestation issues in the cocoa sector, which industry and certification programmes have failed to resolve voluntarily. Despite Côte d'Ivoire's role as the world's largest cocoa producer, with 75% of its production exported to Europe, cocoa plantations have long been associated with deforestation. As land becomes less fertile, farmers clear more forest for new cocoa plantations.

The research reveals that Ivorian cocoa farmers are migrating to Liberia, home to more than half of West Africa's remaining tropical forests. In the three Liberian villages studied, residents reported that no fewer than "183 producers have settled in recent years, 60 between December 2023 and January 2024 alone". This migration has led to further deforestation in Liberia, and there is a lack of infrastructure for exporting cocoa beans. Researchers found that cocoa beans from Liberia were often mixed with local beans, ending up in bags meant for both local sales and certified export. This undermines systems designed to prevent fraudulent sourcing and the importation of beans from other countries.

The investigators urged the EU to implement rigorous controls as part of the due diligence required by the EUDR to combat this issue.

Traoré added: "The cocoa industry has pledged to end deforestation, but our investigation shows that this is still not happening. EU regulation on deforestation represents a historic opportunity to finally honour the commitment. The best way to achieve it is to implement a national traceability system covering the entire sector, rather than relying on a piecemeal approach by individual companies. We call on traders, certifiers, and the major chocolate companies to join the conversation and commit to a national traceability system in Côte d'Ivoire.” "Many companies claim to be acting to improve cocoa’s sustainability, but our investigation shows that the reality on the ground is very different from that projected by big PR campaigns targeting European consumers. In fact, the large companies are afraid of losing their edge and their access to cheap cocoa. They're doing very well from the inefficient system that has been used so far, and which only produces poverty for millions of producers. This cannot go on."

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