Deforestation Report 1


The Bitterness Behind Sweet Chocolate

This articled looks at the progress report on deforestation from the Cocoa and Forest Initiative (CFI) with a critical eye to determine if it’s an accurate reflection of the current state on the ground in Cote d’Ivoire in particular.

The Role of Economics in Ethical Discussions

Since halting deforestation is an ethical choice, but paying for it is an economic one, we are setting the context with this introduction.

Chocolatiers are frequently driven by passion above profit. They already have a natural affinity for sustainable and fair trade. Concerns are for matters of quality and provenance, as well as ethical production.

Large businesses, however, are driven by a need to maintain or bolster stakeholder and shareholder value, which is achieved through company growth and profit.

Such businesses are often characterised as heartless, however, this is not necessarily the case. Companies, as legal entities, don’t do anything. The people inside the company define its purpose and culture, and some of those people will hold the values and ethics of others in the industry.

It is sometimes forgotten that some of the most vulnerable people in our society rely on pensions, whose funds are invested in the stock market, which in turn relies on the results of big corporations.

So a better approach is to require transparency of business practices and align ethical interests with the companies economic imperative.

A company may invest a substantial amount in building and maintaining a brand which allows them to charge a premium for their product. Brands are valuable, and they need to ensure they’re aligned with the consumer mindset. If ethics become part of the buying decision, you can be sure that brands will consider how to demonstrate their ethical credentials.

But here’s the rub, as they say. Unfortunately, it is probably the case that the perception of ethics is more important than the actual achievement of ethical practice. This is where transparency and monitoring are required to ensure a company’s claims are in fact valid.

It is with this background and context in mind that we delve into this article.

Supplying Cocoa to the Chocolate Manufacturers

Nestle, Hershey’s, and Mars are some of the best-known companies that produce chocolate worldwide. These manufacturers largely depend on their chocolate supply through intermediaries like Cargill, who buy their cocoa from cooperatives and pay a premium (around 50%) for receiving a sustainable product.

35 companies, including the ones above are signatories to the CFI.

Figure 1. Production of Cocoa Beans in Côte d'Ivoire from 2012/2013 to 2019/2020

Figure 1. Production of Cocoa Beans in Côte d’Ivoire from 2012/2013 to 2019/2020

top 10 exports cote divoire

However, there have been concerns about the transparency of the supply chain, particularly in Cote d’Ivoire. Despite the big chocolate companies PR about their ethical credentials, deforestation continues. 

Côte d’Ivoire is known as one of the largest producers of cocoa, accounting for more than a third of the world’s total production and is expected to produce approximately 2.18 million1 tons this year (see Figure 1). Cocoa is also the largest export product in Ivorian international shipments. Figure 2 shows the percentage of each export product with regards to the total exportation from Côte d’Ivoire 2

During the 1960s after their independence, their forests were greatly inhabited by wildlife species such as elephants and chimpanzees 3. Côte d’Ivoire was once valuable biodiversity with rich species diversity and biological richness 4. The expansion of cocoa production started in the 1970s when they began trading agricultural exports worldwide, and saw 60% of the export revenues come from cocoa products, but at the expense of vast areas of forest destruction.

The Impact of Deforestation

As a drawback of extensive cocoa production for more than half a century, its deforestation rate escalated to 80%, and its protected forests with 7,700 square miles are severely degraded over the last 50 years5. The chocolate industry in Côte d’Ivoire expanded its operation during the 1970s, converting the country’s national parks, landscapes, and 90% of protected areas into cocoa plantations endangering the lives of wildlife species inhabiting the land 5.

Move the slider to see 2018 / 2019 Changes

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The Mighty Earth reported that Côte d’Ivoire had the second-highest deforestation rate and its continuous exploitation will eradicate Cavally forest and Goin Debe forest by 2061 and 2071, respectively.

This massive land denudation gives rise to climate change, increasing the temperature that could dry out the land and reduce its fertility. Previously, most cocoa growers used the slash-and-burn practice to re-plant a land. But since the forests are now so heavily depleted, the cocoa farmers are resorting to damaging fertilizers and pesticides.

The pesticides kill the taller vegetation allowing cocoa trees to be planted. It’s a cheap option that allows cocoa farming to remain profitable. However, the true cost is in the longer-term damage to the forest from this treatment.

cote divoire deforestation

Labour and Child Exploitation

It is also reported that child labour, typically from Burkina Faso, is used, spraying the areas without any of the necessary protective equipment. The children, purchased for as little as $300-$400 will work without pay for 2-3 years. Together these measures increase their production, reducing their break-even levels and maintain profitability 6.

In fact, the cocoa industry in Côte d’Ivoire is notorious for child labour. Based on the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), nearly 1,303,009 children were working on cocoa production, with a ratio of 1.3 tons of cocoa per child 7. These children were submerged in a hazardous cocoa production that results in various injuries and diseases.

Labour exploitation remains rampant in the cocoa-producing community overall. The British newspaper, The Guardian, wrote that slave labour is uncontrolled within the country. By some estimates 600,000 farmers and approximately 6 million people working in the cocoa industry only earn 6% of the final chocolate bar sale while manufacturers own 80% of its total sale 5.

Will Ivorian Government Plan Increase Deforestation?

Even with the current environmental and socio-economic turbulence brought by the cocoa industry, the Ivorian government has laid out plans that environmental groups believe could lead to further large-scale deforestation.

In 2017, the government initiated a new National Policy for the Preservation, Rehabilitation and Extension of Forests and the New Forestry Code to address the following issues [8]:

1)   Tree tenure (agroforestry activities) 

2)   Differential forest management (categorization of forests classified according to their level of degradation)
3)   Involvement of the private sector in the forest reservation

Human rights advocates such as Regroupement des Acteurs Ivoiriens des Droits de l’Homme en Côte d’Ivoire (RAIDH) and Human Rights Watch analyzed the implications of these initiatives and raised a number of concerns in regard to both the current inhabitant’s classified forest areas, as well as the potential for private companies to abuse the deforestation terms if unmonitored.

In the letter they summarise their concerns:

There is a significant risk that private sector actors put their economic interests above the restoration of forest cover, which must remain, above all, the ultimate objective. Nothing guarantees that the state will have the ability to supervise the activities of industrial operators authorized to work in agro-forests.

Their letter, “Côte d’Ivoire: Letter on Rights Impacts of Draft Policy for Forest Preservation and Rehabilitation”, concentrated on two main points: introduction to Agroforest and potential evictions [8].

Civil society is coming together to fight for sustainable cocoa

Amourlaye Touré, Mighty Earth’s West Africa Representative

The organisations suggest that if the government fails to supervise private corporations’ management of agroforests, it will bear a consequential risk for the forests and its occupants.

Many of these occupants are small-scale farmers who have lived and became forest-dependent for their food, health, and income, even though they may accept they do not own official tenure on the land they work.

The activist claims their research shows large-scale agricultural corporations neglect to protect the rights of the marginalized communities that greatly depend on forest lands.

Increased Risk to Climate Change and Reduced Biodiversity

Tremendous environmental risks are also apparent due to the conversion of forest lands to agroforests, in this case, cocoa plantations. Natural forests play a great role in climate-regulation, thus, conversion to monoculture or species-poor plantations can increase the heat index of an area [9]. Floral and faunal biodiversity can also be destroyed when natural but degraded forests will be converted to monoculture plantations. Conversion to monoculture plantations requires total removal of the existing trees in forest land and results in deforestation [6].

CFI Goals of the Public-Private Partnership

Cocoa and Forest Initiative (CFI) is a substantial and welcome initiative by the combined forces of Government and Private companies with the aim to reverse deforestation.

The governments of Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, with 35 cocoa and chocolate companies assisted by The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) and World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) have worked to create an actionable plan.

It is also supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (BUZA), Partnership for Forests (P4F) through the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the World Bank [10]. Cocoa and Forests Initiative activities have three priorities [11]:

1.    Forest protection and restoration

2.    Sustainable production and farmers’ livelihood

3.    Community engagement and social inclusion

Based on the Private Sector Progress Report 2018-2019 of CFI [11], companies have mapped over 492,900 farms in Côte d’Ivoire to ensure that the purchased cocoa is deforestation-free. They are also conducting deforestation risk assessments to eliminate the cocoa produced from protected areas and to lessen the subsequent deforestation.

The World Cocoa Foundation is currently working with the government and technical experts to develop Climate Smart Cocoa (CSC) training materials to help the farmers learn climate change adaptation practices. Similarly, operational guidance for land and tree tenure is currently in progress with the effort of the Ivorian government and some companies.

The same progress report showed that companies helped 190,100 farmers in Côte d’Ivoire on farm-level crop diversification, climate-smart practices, and promotion of cocoa agroforestry. They have allocated two million multipurpose trees that could contribute to farm diversification. Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) is also provided to 120,000 Côte d’Ivoire farmers for their working capital and investment funds. VSLA targets women to further strengthen gender equality and social empowerment goals.

Community-Based Natural Resource Management mechanisms were also administered in 1,680 Ivorian communities [11]. These focus on community consultations, women and youth programs, legal and structural recognition to empower the cocoa-growing communities. Through these, it harnesses engagement between the marginalized communities, government institutions, and civil society organizations to end deforestation in the cocoa sector.

Is the Plan Succeeding or Failing?

Large scale reports such as the one produced by CFI are assembled from a number of contributing sources. Stakeholders write the forwards and typically focus on achievements to date. Technical managers may typically put the numbers together, of which someone will determine how they are presented.

It is an interesting observation that some key risks identified in CFI’s own plan are the same concerns raised by activists. See below screenshot of the risk matrix from CFI’s report.

risk assessment

We see that they have identified insufficient engagement by key stakeholders from the government of Cote d’Ivoire as a Medium Likelihood and High impact. Their mitigation suggestion is to assure transparency of policy and award contracts with clear deliverables and safeguard clauses. Other key risks include:

  • Areas of deforestation simply moving to other areas
  • Bureaucracy
  • Limited or late funding
  • Poor management Information

Whoever conducted this Risk Assessment did an admirable job. Is there a risk committee that regularly meets to review the risk register and take appropriate remediation?

It is engineers and operational staff who implement the policy and know what is happening that we should listen to. Unfortunately, this is often not the case, and it is these same concerns that the activists are citing.

In reviewing the governance structure of the CFI, the politically-leaning Steering committee seems to make the decisions, while the technical committee has no fewer than 22 companies and organisations participating. That’s too many voices to be effective.

Currently, it seems that despite the programs of the Cocoa and Forests Initiative, deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire is still in progress. Initiatives and reforms are constrained since some companies want to expand their large-scale agroforestry plantations breaking the existing smallholder farming of the cocoa community.

Deforestation Continues Without Regard to the Agreement

According to a report from Mighty Earth 3, more than half of the protected areas showed an increase in deforestation rate since the activities of CFI began. Their “peak danger season” of deforestation happens between January and April, every year.

During the field investigation of Mighty Earth, they discovered that the clearing of Cavally Forest Reserve continues.

The SODEFOR (Société de Développement Forestier or Forest Development Corporation) rangers who accompanied the team seemed not surprised with the presence of illegal huts, axe-thinned forests, and scorch marks from recently burned fires in the forest reserve. SODERFOR rangers also stated that they open some parts of the forests for logging.

There are still farmers who engage in deforestation to produce cocoa without consequences. Mighty Earth discovered that the local communities in Goin Debe continue to cut forests evading the CFI requirements. During their field investigation, they uncovered that there were four hectares of recently cleared forest, with recently planted cocoa trees since the CFI was introduced. A local farmworker told the team that he was not aware of any restrictions regarding cocoa deforestation.

Even with the aid of various public and private institutions, the cocoa industry in Côte d’Ivoire remains helpless, local communities continue to be underprivileged, and forest lands stay deforested.

Global Challenge

Thus, genuine socio-economic and environmental change is possible if institutions prioritize and cater to the needs of its people 3. A deforestation-free campaign should be global since forests frontiers from different states are also at risk of complete deforestation.

Sustainable agroforestry with clear technical and environmental objectives must be administered to undo the harmful pasts of forest exploitation. Government and cocoa companies must fund resources for the restoration of protected forests and its conversion to national parks for better protection and management.

The accountability and transparency of all the stakeholders should also be addressed for strengthened enforcement of resource and community management. Lastly, rural communities must be empowered to reinforce their participation in sustainable cocoa production.


Côte d’Ivoire, known for its religious and cultural harmony, is still at the peak of social and environmental injustice. Every day, their rural communities experience tremendous labour exploitation as their forests are quickly vanishing.

We applaud the industry for what they have started with CFI, but it is not enough to start an initiative. They must finish the job. That means monitoring, transparency, and reporting the bad with the good.

We may be mistaken, but the current governance structure looks weighted heavily on the political side.

It is no good to have politicians head such an initiative because it does not suit their nature to be committed to details. Better for operationally focused people run the programme with support from all parties, and crucially that they are allowed to report the facts unrestrained by actors that may be embarrassed by poor results.

While people around the world are enjoying the consumption of cocoa, Côte d’Ivoire’s reality is still far from sweet















  • Nick Baskett


    Nick Baskett is the editor in Chief at Bartalks. He holds a diploma from the Financial Times as a Non Executive Director and works as a consultant across multiple industries. Nick has owned multiple businesses, including an award-winning restaurant and coffee shop in North Macedonia.

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