Chocolate Industry's Illegal Deforestation Of West Africa’s National Parks An “Open Secret”

Mighty Earth

A new report has revealed how our insatiable love of delicious chocolate is destroying the forests, and endangering wildlife, in the protected national parks of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana.

The report, by non-profit Mighty Earth, has revealed how the illegal deforestation of protected land by the chocolate industry is an “open secret” that runs from ground production, through traders, the Ivorian government, and well-known chocolate companies.

The report, named “Chocolate’s Dark Secret” and based on field investigations in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana (together responsible for 60 percent of the world's cocoa), found that a significant amount of the cocoa knowingly bought by Mars, Nestle, Cadbury, Godiva, and Hershey's amongst others, is grown illegally in protected areas. 

“The extent to which big chocolate brands like Mars are linked to destruction of national parks and protected areas is shocking,” said Etelle Higonnet, Mighty Earth Campaign and Legal Director, and one of the report's authors. “These companies need to take immediate action to end deforestation once and for all, and remediate past damage.”  

Trees are burned down to allow for cocoa to be planted. Mighty Earth

Cocoa is the number one driver of deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire, despite agricultural production being illegal in protected areas. According to Mighty Earth, in several national parks, up to 90 percent of the land is now cocoa, and less than 4 percent of the Côte d'Ivoire – formerly known for its lush rainforest – is now forested. It has lost seven of its 23 protected areas, while Ghana has lost 10 percent of its tree cover to cocoa.

The report also revealed the knock-on effect of deforestation. As the name suggests, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) once had an abundance of elephants roaming its forests. Now there are an estimated 200 to 400. Chimpanzees, already living in pockets of forest, are being driven to local extinction. A 2015 study showed 13 of 23 protected areas had lost their entire primate population.

Agricultural production is illegal inside protected areas, not that it's stopping anyone. Mighty Earth

And again, it’s not just animals being affected. The cocoa industry is notorious for paying low wages to those working long hours, while making a sizeable profit itself. In fact, entire townships of illegal inhabitants are springing up around these illegal cocoa production sites.

In March of this year, Prince Charles met with some of the world’s biggest chocolate companies to commit to ending deforestation by developing a plan to be presented at the UN’s Climate Change 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP 23) in November. Twelve leading companies committed, though details of any plan haven't been revealed.

Mighty Earth hopes this report will give the industry the push it needs. In the meantime, unless ethically sourced or Rainforest Allianced, chocolate really is a guilty pleasure.

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