Q: Why is deforestation an issue in the cocoa industry?
Andrew Brooks: The root cause is low farmer incomes. Most cocoa farmers have small amounts of land, so they can’t grow enough cocoa to fully support their families. To bring in extra income, they may resort to clearing more land to farm. That’s why we focus not only on protecting and restoring forests but on improving farmer incomes too.
At ofi, we are committed to driving change and will continue to play our part, working closely with governments, customers, and partners. — Andrew Brooks, ofi’s Head of Cocoa Sustainability
At the same time, there has been an influx of immigrant farmers into Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana from sub-Saharan Africa. Struggling to earn enough on subsistence crops at home, many see cocoa as the best option to make more money and cross borders to set up illicit cocoa farms and networks in poorly protected national parks and forest reserves.
Q: What is the Cocoa & Forests Initiative?
AB: In 2017, ofi, along with 34 other leading cocoa and chocolate companies, and the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana came together with the World Cocoa Foundation to create CFI. It aims to help end deforestation and restore forest areas while also helping cocoa farming communities to thrive. Together, we’ve taken action to tackle deforestation and work with farming communities that depend on cocoa for their livelihoods, both in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and across our global cocoa supply chain.
This also forms part of Cocoa Compass, our broader sustainability ambition for the future of the cocoa sector. It sets challenging goals to tackle deforestation, achieve living incomes for farmers and put children first.
Q: What progress has ofi made over the last twelve months?
AB: We distributed 1.4 million trees to farmers to actively promote agroforestry and restore vital forest tree cover, and mapped hundreds of hectares of land to help protect against future deforestation. As we won’t solve the problem of deforestation until we’ve tackled low farmer incomes, we also trained more than 67,000 farmers in Good Agricultural Practices to help them improve their yields and helped over 15,000 women get access to loans, savings, and other critical support. And we reached a significant milestone of 100% deforestation monitoring across our direct supply chain, helping us to better understand tree loss risk hotspots.
Q: Is there a project you’re particularly proud of?
AB: Since 2018, we’ve been working with the Rainforest Alliance and the UK government’s Partnerships for Forests (P4F) to protect and restore the Sui River Forest Reserve in Ghana. We’ve worked closely with community members, local farmers, the Ghanaian Forestry Commission, and COCOBOD to restore the landscape. By the end of 2021, we had helped train 10,000 farmers on climate-smart agricultural cocoa practices that will help to improve yields and boost the environmental impact. These techniques are now being used across 4,000 hectares of land. We are currently developing plans to expand the project, with an ambition to restore 10,000 hectares of degraded land and improve incomes for 36,000 smallholder farmer households in the next four years.
Q: What challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?
AB: The Covid-19 pandemic made it difficult for us to reach cocoa farming communities to deliver on-the-ground training. However, our managed to find novel ways to run farmer training and deliver crucial assistance like medical and food supplies to vulnerable cocoa communities. Where we couldn’t visit locations physically, we used technology to provide support, such as a remote Technical Assistance Center via WhatsApp, in place of in-person group training and on-field visits.
Q: What is next in helping to end deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana?
AB: We know there is still a lot more to be done to protect and restore forests and improve farmer livelihoods. At ofi, we are committed to driving change and will continue to play our part, working closely with governments, customers, and partners. In particular, we will focus on mapping and enhancing the transparency of our supply chain, training farmers in Good Agricultural Practices, continuing to educate communities on forest protection and agroforestry, and distributing forest trees. We are actively supporting new EU and US sustainability legislation and continue to work with NGOs, industry and government bodies to call for stronger legislation in producing countries to address deforestation and enforce protected forest areas.