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Research has shown that as cocoa exports increase, deforestation increases across producing nations. In addition the demand for cocoa has caused social problems such as human trafficking and child slave labour. Here’s the lowdown.

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Cocoa is an export product consumed almost entirely in developed countries. The beans from which chocolate is made are grown in less-developed countries in West Africa, Asia, Central and South America.

Many of the farmers growing cocoa live in poverty. They receive only about three percent of the price of a chocolate bar and the more chocolate people consume, the more they suffer, research has shown.

To add insult to injury, a number of social, economic and environmental issues including human trafficking and child slave labour have arisen in the production of this luxury crop.

In recently published research, Mark Noble, visiting assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at Lehigh University, focuses on the link between cocoa exports and deforestation in developing nations.

Cocoa exports and deforestation

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Prof Noble has found that the higher the concentration of cocoa exports, the higher the rates of deforestation across producing nations.

He notes that although chocolate production was once considered to have only minimal impacts on forests, “recent reports suggest damaging trends due to more demand and changing cultivation strategies”.

“I was surprised to see how there is evidence that cocoa exports are linked to deforestation where they were not less than 20 years ago.”

He has found that the demand for increased cocoa exports, changing weather patterns and falling cocoa prices, has led to more monocropping – the agricultural practice of growing only one type of agricultural product in a large area of land, year after year – and less sustainable growing practices in recent years.

Noble, who wrote Chocolate and the Consumption of Forests: A Cross-National Examination of Ecologically Unequal Exchange in Cocoa Exports, says this further reduces the possibilities for successful or sustainable development in less-developed nations.

The negative impact of coffee and chocolate production

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Every year, more than five million family farms in countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Indonesia and Brazil produce about four and a half million tons of cocoa beans, according to the World Cocoa Foundation. Ghana and the Ivory Coast supply more than 70 percent of the world’s cocoa.

Studies have shown that when countries are encouraged to pursue economic growth through an over-reliance on export agriculture, there are negative social and environmental consequences.

Noble explains that coffee and chocolate used to be exclusively grown in semi-shade conditions. “Now increased demand and more industrial growing practices are leading to pressure on forests where this was not the case in prior decades.”

The Cocoa and Forests Initiative

In March, 2017 the Prince of Wales’ International Sustainability Unit, working in partnership with the World Cocoa Foundation and the Sustainable Trade Initiative, launched the Cocoa and Forests Initiative, in an effort to “end deforestation and forest degradation in the global cocoa supply chain, with an initial focus on Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana”.

Twelve of the world’s leading chocolate companies, including Ferrero, Godiva Chocolatier, Inc., Mars Chocolate, Nestlé, Lindt & Sprüngli Group, and The Hershey Corporation have signed the initiative, which is the first collective industry commitment to specifically end deforestation.

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