Peter Baker looks at deforestation caused by growing coffee and cocoa and at the complex issues that confound progress towards truly sustainable production
The West African forest biome has been devastated and cocoa farming is a principal cause; coffee deforestation continues across the tropics, though largely under reported. Scientific evidence confirms that deforestation leads to more extreme local climates which affect yields and profits in nearby farms, and 2019 saw a notable increase in forest fires over numbers for the same period in the previous four years: according to the International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies, from January to August 2019, South American countries most affected by forest fire increase were Brazil with 75,336 fires (85 percent increase); Bolivia 17,154 (114 percent increase) and Peru 5,681, (104 percent increase)¹. Worryingly, this very active fire season has happened in a fairly ENSO-neutral year. Mariel Cabero, environmental justice expert at the International Union for Conservation of Nature suggests, “These forest fires have been fuelled by trade deals and policies which favour land clearing for soy, cattle and biofuel”².
To give an idea of the scale of the problem, it has been estimated that, up to 5 September 2019, global fires this year have released about 4.7 gigatonnes of CO2, more than the combined annual emissions of EU and Japan³.
Historically, cocoa and coffee deforestation have not been in the forefront of environmentalists’ concerns, which have focused mainly on larger devastation caused by expansion of oil palm, cattle, soya, but this seems to be changing.
Much of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, where there has been prodigious deforestation in recent decades: by 2000 the broad swath of now fragmented biodiversity hotspot Guinea rainforest running through Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon had declined to 18 percent of its former area, driven by low-yield smallholder agriculture.
From 1988 to 2007, the area harvested by smallholders of cocoa, cassava, and oil palm increased by 6.8 million hectares (ha)⁴; a recent paper⁵ relates that cocoa production increased from 2 to 3 million tons in the first decade of the 21st century. Forest destruction is exacerbated as farmers migrate to virgin areas to avoid mounting pest and disease problems, especially Black Pod and Cocoa Swollen Shoot Virus Disease.
According to Mighty Earth⁶, in Côte d’Ivoire’s southwest cocoa heartland alone, deforestation in 2018 was 13,748 ha, whilst deforestation of Ghana’s primary forests jumped 60 per cent between 2017 and 2018 – the biggest increase of any tropical country⁷. Most of this occurred in the country’s protected areas, including its forest reserves.
Cocoa traders and companies told Mighty Earth they were aware that significant amounts of the cocoa they purchase from Côte d’Ivoire were likely illegally grown in protected areas. The director of the government’s Forest Reserve protection agency (Sodefor) estimated that 40 percent of Ivorian cocoa comes from protected areas.■ C&CI
*Dr Peter Baker works with Climate Edge Ltd which is working with Fairtrade farmers in W Ghats
- Gockowski J, Sonwa D, (2011) Env. Manag. 48: 307-321
- Wessel & Quist-Wessel, NJAS – Wageningen J. (2015) Life Sciences 74–75: 1–7
This is an extract of an article first appeared in the November’19 issue of C&CI. Click on subscribe now if you wish to read more informative articles in the current and future issues of C&CI.