Shade-grown cocoa is at the root of Côte d’Ivoire’s deforestation

Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s leading cocoa producer, but the country’s main economic activity is causing devastating deforestation, damaging the environment and fueling the illegal timber trade. Cocoa expert Simon Nanga told the ENACT anti-organized crime project that farmers generally relied on the natural fertility of the soil in virgin forests for high cocoa yields. The natural soil has better nutrients than the already cultivated cocoa fields. This leads to the clearing of forests to allow cocoa cultivation. After 5 to 10 years, soil fertility declines and farmers move into the next two or three fresh acres of virgin forest to plant a new crop. This is repeated in many parts of central-eastern and western Côte d’Ivoire, leading to a increase of towns and villages in protected forest areas. For example, an illegal settlement of some 30,000 people was recently discovered in the Marahoué and Mont Péko national parks. To diversify and increase their income, some farmers make lucrative deals with logging companies and illegal timber traders to cut down trees to make way for cocoa crops. This practice has proven to be more lucrative for farmers than cocoa bean production, which could make illegal logging one of the most prevalent and lucrative forms of organized crime in the country. Illegal logging has increased with the expansion of cocoa cultivation throughout the country. With financing from dark financiers, the ‘artisans’ carry out logging in the forests targeted by cocoa farmers. Contravening the Forest 2019 of Côte d’Ivoire Act, these loggers grind raw wood into semi-finished products at the logging site. Truckers move cargo to markets in urban centers. Ivory Coast lost 47,000 hectares of forest in its cocoa belt in 2020 alone, a rate that experts say could see the country’s forest cover completely depleted by 2034. Illegal logging related to cocoa wipes out endangered tree species such as teak, framiré and gmelina, which are covered by strict international trade regulations. Cocoa-related illegal logging has also caused massive biodiversity and wildlife losses in Côte d’Ivoire, especially among elephants Y primates. Inconsistent enforcement of state regulations has left loopholes that illegal loggers take advantage of to push deeper into protected forests. Corruption and weaknesses in the system facilitate illegal logging in areas designated for timber extraction, most of which are also cocoa-producing areas. In 2019, a wild chimpanzee foundation report revealed deficiencies in the Forestry Development Corporation of Côte d’Ivoire (SODEFOR). These included logging beyond approved areas, the irregular issuance of licenses to harvest prohibited species, and the authorization of logging before taking an inventory and in the absence of a monitoring agent or transportation tickets. SODEFOR was found to lack the ability to track the activities of private companies and impose legal sanctions against breaches of the 2019 Forest Law. In the absence of systematic law enforcement, illegal loggers produce most of the wood used in various industries, depriving the economy of income. The Ministry of Water and Forests estimates that illicit networks produce 15 to 30 times more wood than formally licensed traders, making illegal logging worth more than €33.5 million a year, about 7 percent of the country’s GDP. There have been international interventions to address cocoa-related environmental degradation, including illegal logging. Global consumer demand has led to the Certification cocoa, a new approach used by multinational companies to ensure sustainability. Spurred by international market access, the approach has gained momentum among cocoa production cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire since the late 2000s. However, certification limits some cooperatives to niche markets such as fair trade or organic farming. Certification is also prohibitively expensive for most farmers and their associations. ENACT was told that the farmers’ income from certified beans is not worth the effort to achieve certification. Yére Yére’s Coopérative Agricole Mawobé said demand from this niche market accounted for about 300,000 tons of Côte d’Ivoire’s annual production of more than two million tons. Côte d’Ivoire has made numerous official commitments to international standards including the European Union Timber Regulations, the New York Declaration on Forests and other global initiatives. However, this high-level political will is undermined by weak law enforcement. Organized crime networks exploit the fraudulent practices and corruption of officials who accept bribes at every stage of the timber supply chain, from logging to transportation and sale. In addition, the Forestry Law harms local cocoa farmers interested in preserving forest land, says civil society. groups. The law grants 24-year concessions to multinational chocolate-producing companies in some protected forest areas to encourage the development of infrastructure and agricultural practices that promote reforestation. But this could conflict with article 12 of the Ivory Coast Constitution, which prevents the ownership of rural land by legal persons. By allowing such concessions, the Forest Law nullifies the spirit of the constitutional provision. Reforestation is addressed in the government’s 2018 National Forest Conservation, Rehabilitation and Expansion Program. Politics. The policy aims to restore forest cover to 20 percent of the national territory by 2030 in protected areas, from which cocoa farmers are urged to stay away. It includes an ambitious €940 million master plan to prevent deforestation and illegal logging related to cocoa. The policy also seeks to dissuade farmers from clearing virgin forests for cocoa cultivation and to stimulate sustainable cocoa cultivation with mechanisms such as the Cocoa and Forests Initiative. These initiatives must be properly implemented alongside a determined effort to curb fraudulent practices that encourage the illegal timber trade. Without a focus on law enforcement, all efforts to achieve sustainable cocoa farming could fail. Allan Ngari, Coordinator of the ENACT Regional Organized Crime Observatory for West Africa and Deo Gumba, Research Consultant, ENACT, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) East ENACT article was funded by the European Union (EU). The content of this article is the sole responsibility of the author and under no circumstances can be considered to reflect the position of the EU. (This item was first published by ISS Today, a syndication partner of Premium Times. We have your permission to republish.) 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