west africa deforestation


Scientists have revealed that the insatiable global demand for chocolate is playing a significant role in the destruction of protected forests in West Africa. Through the analysis of satellite maps of Ivory Coast and Ghana, researchers discovered that large portions of once-thick forests have been transformed into cocoa plantations since 2000.

According to the study, cocoa production has been responsible for 360,000 hectares (37.4%) of deforestation in protected areas in Ivory Coast since 2000, and 26,000 hectares (13.5%) in similar areas in Ghana, out of a total of 962,000 hectares and 193,000 hectares, respectively. The cocoa trade is a lucrative industry, with the global market for chocolate estimated to be worth over a trillion dollars last year. While cocoa is originally native to South America, the majority is now produced in Africa, with Ivory Coast and Ghana accounting for two-thirds of the world’s production.

Approximately 2 million farmers in West Africa rely on cocoa for their livelihoods. These farmers operate small-scale farms, typically spanning only three to four hectares, and earn meager incomes, often less than $1 per day. The cocoa supply chain is complex, involving various intermediaries, both public and private, that connect farmers to the global market. However, this intricate network often obscures the transparency of the supply chain, making it susceptible to human rights abuses. The chocolate industry has long been associated with instances of slavery and exploitation.

The research not only highlights the human rights concerns but also reveals the link between chocolate consumption and the climate and biodiversity crises facing our planet. West Africa, like other tropical regions, is experiencing rapid deforestation. Ivory Coast has lost more than 90% of its forests since 1950, and Ghana has lost at least 65%. Cocoa production, along with mining, selective logging, and other forms of agriculture, has been identified as a primary driver of deforestation in these countries. However, the extent to which cocoa cultivation contributes to this issue was previously uncertain.

To accurately map the presence of cocoa plantations in deforested areas, an international team of researchers employed satellite imagery analysis. They utilized a neural network to examine the satellite data and identify cocoa plantations. The findings were then verified by on-the-ground teams in Ivory Coast and Ghana and cross-referenced with the World Database of Protected Areas.

The research revealed that cocoa is cultivated on more than 1.5 million hectares of protected areas in both countries combined. This accounts for nearly 14% of Ivory Coast’s protected areas and 5% of Ghana’s. Shockingly, in some classified forest and forest reserve areas, nearly 80% of the land has been cleared for cocoa cultivation.

These findings serve as a wake-up call to address the detrimental impact of the chocolate industry on the environment and local communities. Efforts to combat deforestation, protect biodiversity, and ensure fair treatment of cocoa farmers are urgently needed. By promoting sustainable and responsible practices throughout the cocoa supply chain, we can work towards a more ethical and environmentally conscious chocolate industry.

“The single most significant driver of deforestation in cocoa production is poverty,” said Kwame Osei, the country director for Ghana and Nigeria for the Rainforest Alliance, which was not involved in the research. “Cocoa farmers in west Africa receive a mere 6% of a chocolate bar’s retail price. They are on the losing end of the supply chain, too, bearing the brunt of chronically low prices and with few opportunities to negotiate.

“Cocoa farmers are also on the front lines of the climate crisis, which leaves them vulnerable to drought, pests, and diseases that can decimate a harvest. In turn, land degradation often leads to the transformation of forest areas, including protected areas, into new cocoa plantations.”



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