“When there is something wrong in the forest, there is something wrong in society”

— Zimbabwean proverb

Despite intensive efforts over the past decade to slow tropical deforestation, the equivalent of 40 football fields worth of trees was lost every minute in 2017. Commercial agricultural production of palm oil, soy, beef and other commodities account for about half of this forest loss. Cocoa, the main ingredient in our chocolate bars, has driven deforestation in West Africa.

New solutions are needed to preserve and restore forests. This is why the global cocoa and chocolate industry has joined forces with West African governments in the Cocoa & Forests Initiative. This innovative multistakeholder partnership demonstrates the power of landscape approaches to tackle commodity-driven deforestation.

The governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana - the two biggest cocoa-producing countries - and 33 of the world’s leading cocoa and chocolate companies signed joint Frameworks for Action in 2017. They agreed to concrete policy changes and investment commitments that will improve forest governance, reduce deforestation risks, catalyze forest protection and restoration and boost farmer livelihoods, while strengthening the sustainability and dependability of cocoa supply for the future.

In line with their commitment to transparency and accountability, governments and companies are publicly disclosing detailed Cocoa & Forests Initiative action plans in March so that all stakeholders can review their commitments and track progress.

Tackling forest and land use governance

The National Plan for Côte d’Ivoire builds on the government strategy adopted in May 2018. Key strategic priorities include passage of the new Forest Code; creation of a National Forest Preservation and Rehabilitation Fund; development and implementation of the national cocoa traceability system; and implementation of pilot projects in five priority regions.

The National Plan for Ghana leverages the Ghana Cocoa Forest REDD+ Programme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation significantly and to enhance carbon stocks through sustainable forest management. Priority actions include scaling up landscape approaches to end forest degradation in six Hotspot Intervention Areas, improving cocoa yields through adoption of climate-smart practices, and strengthening supply chain mapping.

Both Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana are introducing a differentiated approach for improved management of forest reserves, based on the level of degradation of forests. Up-to-date maps on forest cover and land use, socio-economic data on cocoa farmers, and detailed operational guidelines covering forest management and land use are being developed and will be publicly disclosed.

Companies: diving in deep

The initial company action plans for Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana spell out significant commitments from industry between 2018 and 2022. These will be updated and finalized in 2019 as governments provide further inputs needed for investment planning.

For forest protection, initial company plans include specific measures for achieving 100% traceability in their direct supply chains, mapping the GPS location of one million farms, and conducting deforestation risk assessments near protected areas. In addition, the companies will distribute and plant 12.6 million native trees for forest restoration and cocoa agroforestry, develop 400,000 hectares of cocoa agroforestry, and sign contracts for payments for environmental services with 215,000 farmers.

For sustainable cocoa production, initial plans include ambitious targets to reach 824,000 farmers with training in environmentally sustainable cocoa farming, distribution of 22 million improved cocoa seedlings, and activities to support the income diversification of 340,000 households.

For community engagement, the Cocoa & Forests Initiative will reach 7,300 communities for participatory development of forest protection and restoration activities, with a specific focus on women and youth.

Scaling up pilots: no time to lose

Companies and governments have begun to translate plans into action on the ground, with strong support from the World Bank, the UK’s Department for International Development, the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and other partners. Key steps include:

- Government collection of land use and socio-economic surveys in priority areas to collect baseline data for the design of new agroforestry and conservation programmes

- Development of farm mapping and traceability systems to ensure cocoa is sourced legally from farms outside protected areas

- Development of new landscape corridors and community-based landscape management to connect up fragmented forest reserves and develop landscape governance systems, aligned with Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 efforts

- Investments in sustainable agricultural intensification in order to “grow more cocoa on less land”, with a focus on climate-smart production techniques; farmer training; land and tree tenure reforms; increased access to financing; and new agro-forestry models

- Launch of payments for environmental services contracts directly with farmers

- Use of satellite monitoring to track illegal deforestation in hotspot areas and to issue deforestation alerts

Judge by the seeds you plant

Ending deforestation is a complex social, economic and environmental challenge. While landscape approaches are increasingly gaining in currency, they are extremely complicated to design and implement. They require significant trust-building among stakeholders, detailed understanding and analysis of the drivers of deforestation, and alignment and sequencing of complex policy and investment actions.

As we turn to implementing the commitments of the Cocoa & Forests Initiative, we need to be adaptive, flexible and patient. We will no doubt make mistakes, and will have to adjust our plans and timing as we work, learning with farmers, communities and other local partners on the ground.

“Judge each day, not by the harvest, but by the seeds you plant”, says a Guinean proverb. Companies and governments are stepping up, and we hope that development partners, environmental organizations and other stakeholders will join us on this difficult and complex journey. Let’s work together to plant the right seeds, and nurture them to grow in a sustainable cocoa and forest landscape.