Top Cocoa Nations, Buyers Firm Up Plans to Fight Deforestation

(Bloomberg) -- Two years into a global push to fight deforestation, the world’s top cocoa producers and some of the largest chocolate makers are firming up specific steps they’re taking to meet the goal.

The governments of Ivory Coast and Ghana, which account for about 65 percent of the global cocoa production, released plans Monday that aim to stop new losses and then begin to rehabilitate forests. The African nations are being joined by 33 companies -- from Hershey Co. to Mondelez International Inc. to Cargill Inc. -- that account for about 85 percent of global cocoa usage and are unveiling a joint approach to combat deforestation before finalizing their own individual plans.

Cocoa has been the backbone of West African economies for decades, making it harder for nations dependent on export earnings to tackle forest degradation. As cocoa prices beat competing crops in several years through 2015, that fueled more production, in many cases at the expense of protected forests.

“We’ve been realistic about sequencing the activities over time and therefore haven’t made an overly unrealistic claim to end deforestation by a certain date,” said Richard Scobey, president of the World Cocoa Foundation. “It will take time. This is for sure a complex social, economic and environmental challenge and there are no easy quick fixes.”

Ivory Coast is where the issue is most-pressing. Cocoa production there surged more than 50 percent in the past decade, while forest cover declined by 17 percent from 2001 to 2017, according to the International Cocoa Organization and World Cocoa Foundation. As part of the plan released today, the nation aims to halt deforestation and further degradation in 2018-2020, and then start a second phase that will last at least 10 years.

In Ghana, where forest cover has declined 13 percent from 2001 to 2017, the government’s newly released plan follows a similar path for the period through 2020. Ghana will at first focus on six areas which have the highest deforestation rate covering 2.5 million hectares. The nation will then roll the initiative out on a national level through 2043.

There are still many questions on how these programs would work and how they will be funded -- the cocoa foundation and others estimate the plan still needs $500 million in financing. The stakeholders also haven’t yet come up with a figure on how much money Ivory Coast, Ghana and each of the companies will invest, although Scobey said that there have been talks with international donors including the World Bank.

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