Sustainable cocoa and coffee

To tackle deforestation, we collectively need to raise the bar

February 2, 2022
Irene Salvi
International Communications

Of the 12 million hectares of trees lost in 2020 in the tropics, 4.2 million hectares were primary forests. Forest loss increased by 12% compared to 2019, marking another regrettable step towards increased climate instability and biodiversity decline.

But what is driving these losses? Looking at the regions where Rikolto is working, in Latin America deforestation is due to livestock, small-scale agriculture and illegal forest harvesting (Luis Orozco, WCF), but most of all to large-scale agricultural production, as for Southeast Asia. In Africa 94% of loss is as a result of increasing farm sizes, small-scale mining and shifting cultivation among smallholder farmers. Even if 71% of deforestation occurs for domestic production, the remaining one third is a global responsibility. In fact, looking at the big picture, many rich countries are driving deforestation in other parts of the world while regrowing forests domestically.

On 17 November 2021, the European Commission published a draft law aiming at reducing the EU’s contribution to deforestation linked to six internationally traded commodities, which are driving almost 80% of all deforestation (FAO 2016). These commodities are beef, palm oil, soy, coffee, cacao and wood. In particular, the text includes a requirement that all products entering the EU market must be free from association with deforestation and forest degradation and comply with the standards of their country of origin. Businesses will be obliged to check, through the “mandatory due diligence” process, the appropriateness of the source of their products. The proposed law also mandates that the origin of all products must be traceable.

This proposed law came into being as a result of the 1.2 million people who took part in the public consultation on deforestation through the #Together4Forest campaign (endorsed by Rikolto). The campaign is demanding stronger legislation to reduce the impact of European consumption on our fragile ecosystem. Sign the call here...

No need for a magnifying glass to spot the gaps

Since the publication of the proposal, several international organisations have warned about the major gaps that could undermine the effectiveness of this long-awaited European commitment against deforestation. We list the main ones below:

  • Other commodities such as maize and rubber that contribute to deforestation, albeit to a lesser extent, have been excluded. This short-sighted position clashes with raising environmental concern towards these commodities, which figure among the 10 main products imported by Europe.
  • Other valuable and fragile ecosystems, such as savannahs, wetlands and peatlands, have not been taken into account. This choice could lead to perverse effects, such as driving farmers and companies to move and exploit these less protected areas.
  • The proposal turned a blind eye to the protection of human rights. The communities of people living in forests, resisting land grabs and forest clearances, are increasingly victims of violence (murder, harassment, intimidation…), and no restrictions are included in the text for products linked to human rights violations.
  • Companies sourcing in the so-called “low risk countries” will be exempted from evaluation whether their products are linked to deforestation or not. This will create unfair competition and push operators to trade the products sourced in “high risk countries” via “low risk countries” to avoid the restrictions and not engage to halt deforestation.
  • Financial organisations and banking companies accused of deforestation are not held to account.

“It is now up to the European Member States to raise the bar”, says Béatrice Wedeux, Forest Policy Officer at WWF in Belgium. Accountability must be and the proposal must be turned into a stronger law. Our ecosystems deserve an ambitious legislative act to keep the “end deforestation by 2030” promise made at the COP26 and to remove deforestation from our plates, once and for all.

Source: New EU deforestation law could fail to protect our precious ecosystems - we're not out of the woods yet

Agroforestry models and access to markets to fight deforestation

Rikolto’s coffee and cacao programme, accounting for about 32% of our budget, has supported almost 110,000 smallholder farmers in 2020, many of whom rely on international buyers to earn a living. The awareness around climate change has grown over recent decades, especially among consumers. Increasingly, companies are committing to achieving substantial levels of sustainability in their value chains and develop future-proof business relationships directly with the farmers from whom they are sourcing their raw materials. At Rikolto, we treasure our long experience in working with supply chain actors and smallholder farmers by creating bridges between them.

On one side we promote the production of cocoa and coffee under agroforestry and/or diversified systems that contribute both to preserving the ecosystem and to promoting food security. In fact, the production of staple foods within these systems is a source of nutritious and affordable food for farmers and for their communities. On the other side we facilitate the creation of inclusive business to ensure a market both for cocoa and coffee and for other cash crops cultivated in the fields. New sources of income improve farmers’ livelihood and discourage them from clearing new forests.

“Structural changes in the governance of agroforestry approaches are needed; a shift from cocoa-plot to landscape, and the collective and inclusive development of landscape approaches that are locally defined through bottom-up collaborative approaches.”

In the biennial Cocoa Barometer a broad coalition of civil society organisations who are members of the VOICE Network (including Rikolto, Oxfam, Solidaridad, ABVV-Horval etc.) assess the sustainability performance of the cocoa sector. A whole session is dedicated to the “Environment” exploring the topics of deforestation and agroforestry.


A worldwide tour of Rikolto’s initiatives

In 2020, inspired by the results obtained within the 5-year agroforestry programme involving the Peruvian farmers’ organisation Pangoa and the American private company Cooperative Coffees, 26 partners of Pangoa have reforested 13 hectares with 8,000 native timber and high-value cocoa trees, with investment from the fair-trade premium. Natalia Palomino, Communication and fundraising officer in Peru

In Peru, 120 coffee and cocoa farmers members of our partner cooperatives adopted agroforestry systems and diversified their production. As highlighted by Angelsen’s research, a number of different factors determine whether higher yields from sustainable intensification will spare land or stimulate expansion. Increased productivity suggests logically that no additional land is needed, but on the flip side of the coin, if the profitability of crops increases farmers are incentivised to expand their farms further. Combining cocoa with other food crops in a design based on farmers’ needs and interests and ensuring market access for all non-cocoa and coffee products all year round can indeed have a positive impact on reducing deforestation. In Peru, the combination of cocoa and coffee with other staple crops, such as bananas, cassava, corn, tomatoes, chilies, oranges and other fruits, has proven particularly important during the Covid pandemic as an additional source of income, as well as for farmers to foresee their own nutritional needs.

Similar projects have been implemented in Ecuadorian coffee fields and in Nicaragua and Honduras together with Colruyt to commercialise cocoa produced by young farmers. Despite its high potential, Central America produces less than 1% of cocoa supply worldwide. For this reason Rikolto launched the initiative called “Cadena Cacao” to promote strengthening of multi-actor spaces in the region and knowledge exchanges around the application of agroforestry systems for cocoa production. The project succeeded in facilitating a common vision for Central American cocoa and gave rise to the regional platform SICACAO. 47 agroforestry systems have been implemented together with 3 export companies and 1 local organisation.

Moving along the equator from South America to the heart of the African continent, we end up in the world’s second-largest rainforest. In the Ituri Forest in Eastern DRC, anchored by the vast Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a new project was launched to protect the home of an incredibly rich biodiversity and support local communities to produce sustainable cocoa and improve their livelihoods by positioning shade-grown cocoa. Ituri province is projected to see an increase in cocoa production in the coming years, with public demand for cocoa rising and climate projections showing decreased suitability for the crop in other cocoa-growing regions. Market-driven intensification is likely to continue deforestation. To answer this wakeup call, Rikolto and a team of experienced research and non profit organizations will engage stakeholders to develop a business case that goes beyond ‘business as usual’ to define a roadmap for cocoa production that prevents deforestation while providing meaningful local economic development.

Ghana and Ivory Coast are two unfortunate examples of countries where the growth in cocoa production has contributed to an increasing rate of deforestation. Deforestation together with child labour remains a major issue in the region that produces more than 60% of the world’s cocoa. In December 2018, the Beyond Chocolate Charter was launched by the Belgian government as a joint ambition shared by the Belgian chocolate and retail sector, civil society, social investors and universities to make Belgian chocolate more sustainable. This industry-wide commitment is what we dream of and strive to achieve, not only for cocoa but also for other major staples. As part of this initiative, Rikolto has been working with Colruyt in Ivory Coast and with Lidl in Ghana to sell a chocolate bar that is 100% sustainably produced across the supply chain.

"It's a complex story. Your production must be sufficiently high, otherwise you cannot generate a good income even at a high price; but at the same time you don't want to create an oversupply of cocoa. That is why we are also working on income diversification in addition to cocoa production. For example, the project focuses on training women to ferment cocoa beans locally in the villages, and on the transformation of cassava into attiéké."

Johan Van den Bossche

Project manager, sustainable value chains in Ivory Coast for Rikolto

The lush forests of Kerinci, Indonesia

To close this worldwide tour we move to Indonesia, where since the 1970s large areas of forests have been transformed into industrial plantations and smallholder farmers have resorted to uncontrolled slash and burn techniques to expand their farms. Rikolto has been employing the Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) approach, a cost-effective means to compensate indigenous communities, landowners and/or (smallholder) farmers for their environmental maintenance and provision of ecosystem services within protected forest. These ecosystem services encompass, among others, the supply of food, water and timber, the regulation of air and soil quality and the preservation of biodiversity. Identifying chain actors willing to reward quality and sustainable coffee production within this system is a key variable of the equation. During the Covid pandemic buyers couldn’t visit the fields, leading to reduced access to markets for farmers and their organisations. As Rikolto, we connected the farmers’ organisation Asnikom, already involved in an agroforesty implementation project, to the coffee trading platform Beyco, developed by our partner Progresso. Asnikom succeeded in securing a deal with This-Side-Up (a Dutch-based coffee buyer) to export 36 tonnes of green beans, and received a credit from Progresso via the platform.

In 2020 Indonesia recorded its lowest deforestation rate, which fell by 75% compared to 2019. Several factors contributed to this result such as reduced commodity prices and the economic crisis, but recent government policies prohibiting forest-clearing have also played a significant role. On domestic markets, the demand for agricultural products including coffee and cocoa is increasing. In fact, cities’ economic development entails a shift in the eating habits of their citizens. In this framework, a deeper commitment at policy level is needed to target both domestic agriculture and globally traded commodities. As highlighted in this article from CIAT, a turning point would be to explore the relationship between consumption patterns and land use to define farsighted policies.

Finally, we advocate for Europe to turn the draft of this law into a reinforced legal instrument to fight deforestation. Greater transparency and accountability is the least we owe our best allies in the fight against climate change and on behalf of the cradle of biodiversity: forests.

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