The chocolate industry needs to provide more financial support to cocoa growers in Ghana to guarantee future supplies from the west African state, leading academics and conservationists have claimed.
The future of cocoa farming in Ghana - a key source of cocoa for multinational chocolate makers like Cadbury - is under threat from unsustainable farming practices, while the prospect of falling earnings is discouraging farmers from cultivating the bean.
The growth in logging and the burgeoning trade in timber is endangering the rainforest and affecting rainfall in Ghana, hitting cocoa farming and the country's wider agriculture sector, Dr John Mason, CEO of the Nature Conservation Research Centre in Ghana, said.
"The industry in west Africa is not at a good moment in time," he warned.
However, Dr Mason claimed unsustainable farming methods developed by cocoa farmers in Ghana were also hurting the country's rainforest. Cocoa farmers, encouraged by the fact that more sunlight provides a greater yield of cocoa pods, are removing the tree cover from their farms.
Dr Mason - and Professor Ken Norris of Reading University - said cocoa farmers were increasingly reducing or completely removing the "canopy" of trees from their farms to increase the level of sunlight hitting their cocoa trees - and contributing to climate change at a local level.
"Cocoa has been - and continues to be - a significant driver of deforestation," Dr Mason told a conference at the Speciality Chocolate Fair at London's Olympia yesterday (7 September).
Professor Norris argued that, with financial help from the chocolate sector, cocoa farmers could be encouraged to keep their levels of canopy, help mitigate local climate change and "trade" the extra carbon dioxide "stored" in their farms by selling on "carbon credits".
"If we were to be able to restore tree canopy in farms, we would get a long-term, sustainable system and we would also be able to store a large amount of carbon," he said.
The process of developing a system of trading carbon credits is underway but Professor Norris admitted all involved were starting from a "very low base".
However, he added: "It's well past being a back-of-the envelope or pub beer mat idea now. There is a growing interest from the chocolate industry in buying these credits."
Professor Norris said the initiative was still looking for "about $4USm" in funding but had received contributions from the likes of Divine Chocolate.
Dr Mason and Professor Norris were talking at the launch of Source Trust, a not-for-profit cocoa buying scheme that plans to charge more per tonne to improve the lives of cocoa farmers and their communities.
Manufacturers including Lindt, Ferrero and Kraft Foods, are already "affiliated partners" of Source Trust, the organisation said.
Tom Neuhaus, President, Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates & Project Hope and Fairness responds:
I am totally mystified by this news about cocoa farmers having the power to cut trees. I visit 5 villages in Ghana (and 7 villages in Cote d'Ivoire) every summer, and I have been interviewing cocoa farmers in Ghana (and Cote d'Ivoire) for 7 years. Granted, I have a limited view of the cocoa world. But the notion of cocoa farmers clearing rainforest just does not square with my experience.
Everywhere that I have been, the cocoa farmer is merely a serf on land owned by the chief, who is in effect a medieval style landlord. The village of Ebekawopa, where we (Project Hope and Fairness) have donated so many things and where I have proposed to erect a Center for the Study of the Cocoa Farmer to Bill Guyton of World Cocoa Foundation, sits directly on a logging road.
I have listened on several occasions to conversations about the trucks that go up and down that rutted road. Here's what I've learned...
1. The farmers have no idea who's doing what. They are serfs. They do not know what deals have been made. They do not know what trees are being cut and why.
2. Like medieval serfs, the farmers pay rent to the landlord, the chief, who visits the village regularly.
3. None, nada, nichts, zero of the cocoa groves that I've visited (dozens by now) are planted in the rainforest style. Long ago, the forest was cut, and the cocoa trees have ZERO cover. Cocoa trees do not need cover because Ghana (and Cote d'Ivoire) is covered in a perpetual grey sky. The ONLY country (of Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, and Cameroon) where I've seen treatment of cocoa trees as understory trees was in Cameroon, where villagers slowly encroach on the virgin forest. Because they have no saws, they girdle the trees by burning fires around their trunks. They then leave the dead trees in place and plant crops--plantains, bananas, cassava, cocoyams, African yams, cacao, coffee--around them. The people who CUT the trees are often First World corporations (in Cote d'Ivoire, Italian).
So the notion that the cocoa farmer makes decisions about cutting trees simply does not square with my experience.
If you want to learn about Project Hope and Fairness's annual trips to Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, see www.sweetearthchocolates.blogspot.com. Or, visit www.projecthopeandfairness.org
If you really want to increase the yield of cocoa farmers, you need to bring them the tools and the knowledge. They do not know what causes black pod. They do not know how to trim the trees. There has been minimal research on organic methods. Every farmer thinks they need a sprayer and some petrochemicals. Ivorian farmers call EVERY chemical they use DDT. Their children are often seen bicycling or walking down the road with a sprayer on their back.
Tom Neuhaus, PhD
Associate Professor, Food Science and Nutrition
Cal Poly University, San Luis Obispo, CA
(and President, Sweet Earth Organic Chocolates & Project Hope and