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Environment

Chocolate Companies Are Illegally Destroying Forests to Grow More Cocoa, Activists Say

Your sweet tooth may have bitter consequences for elephants, chimpanzees, and other species in West Africa.

According to activists from the organization SumOfUs, major chocolate producers like Ferrero and Cadbury’s parent company Mondelez purchase cocoa beans grown illegally in protected areas and national parks in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. The worldwide demand for chocolate compels farmers to strip rainforests in order to grow cocoa, thus driving wildlife from its natural habitats.

“The ancient forests of our nation, once a paradise for wildlife like chimpanzees, leopards, hippopotamus, and elephants, have been degraded and deforested to the point that they’re almost entirely gone,” said Kouamé Soulago Fernand, General Secretary of Ivorian NGO network ROSCIDET. “This deforestation is due principally to the cultivation of cocoa.”

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More than two-thirds of the world’s cocoa is grown by 2 million farmers in West Africa, with Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana serving as the world’s first and second biggest producers, the Guardian reports.

While cocoa may be a boon for their economies, the intensive farming it often demands has devastated the natural landscape in both countries.

Deforestation in Cote d'Ivoire occurs at a faster rate than in any other African country, according to the Guardian. In some Ivorian national parks, for example, up to 90% of land has been converted for growing cocoa, according to a report by the organization Mighty Earth.And in Ghana, 10% of forests have been razed to make way for cocoa plants, Mighty Earth reported.

Meanwhile, poaching, deforestation, and conflict have combined to cut the region’s pachyderm population by 110,000 elephants, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

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For years, a network of shady middlemen and corrupt regulators have shepherded “dirty beans” — illegally grown cocoa — from national parks and preserves to major chocolate companies, who process the plants and turn them into chocolate bunnies, creamy eggs, or nougat-filled candy bars.

In response to reports of illegal chocolate trading and a public outcry against deforestation, several major chocolate producers committed to ending the use of “dirty beans,” SumOfUs reported.

But a few corporations have yet to sign on to that commitment, prompting SumOfUs to rally public support for a universal ban on illegally sourced cocoa.

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In a statement, SumOfUs Campaign Manager Anne Isakowitsch specifically called on Cadbury to resist purchasing cocoa from illegal operations that threaten the environment.

“Because it still hasn’t agreed to turn the page on all deforestation worldwide for chocolate, Cadbury will be raking in profits this Easter by buying cocoa driving rainforest destruction and connected to human rights violations,” Isakowitch said.

Isakowitsch said SumOfUs wants Cadbury to commit to a “global no-deforestation policy” and rely on shade-grown cocoa, which preserves existing forests.

In September 2017, Cadbury’s parent company Mondelez told the Guardian that it takes deforestation seriously and has worked to end the use of illegally sourced cocoa.

“We all recognize the urgency and we all acknowledge the issue,” Mondelez spokesperson Cathy Pieters told The Guardian. “As an individual company we have probably worked the longest on this. We are exactly in the middle of that process, because of the urgency and the need for a solution.”