Zero deforestation supply chains: promoting sustainable chocolate

How can we make chocolate more sustainable? This was one of the questions addressed by IIED researchers in a presentation at the World Forestry Congress in Durban.

Marisa Camargo's picture
Marisa Camargo is a researcher at VITRI in the University of Helsinki, and a senior consultant at Indufor Oy
16 September 2015
The author with cocoa farmers in Ghana. Farmers on average receive 3 per cent of a chocolate bar price and many are dependent on a single commodity for their livelihoods (Photo: Marisa Camargo)

The author with cocoa farmers in Ghana. Farmers on average receive 3 per cent of a chocolate bar price and many are dependent on a single commodity for their livelihoods (Photo: Copyright Marisa Camargo)

I've just been in Durban, where the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations organised the XIV World Forestry Congress. It was a week of productive discussions on the challenges and opportunities of sustainably managing and conserving forests resources. IIED was involved in several events and had an expedition stand showcasing the institute's work.

The congress was calling attention to the fact that agricultural commodities such as beef, cocoa, palm oil, and soya, have been driving 80 per cent of deforestation worldwide, and that demand will continue to grow, given the forecasted increase in population and the growing middle class.

This faces the global community with a difficult challenge: how do we increase productivity while maintaining and restoring forest resources?

In an effort to contribute to this debate, I was presenting initial findings of our ongoing work on promoting sustainable chocolate, which is part of the 'Inclusive REDD+' project, supported by the UK government.

Our research is investigating the cocoa/chocolate supply chain to understand:

  1. Where and how it is produced (its wonders versus its dark sides)
  2. Where it is consumed, and
  3. Who the actors along the supply chain are – from farmer to consumer.

We are exploring how chocolate production contributes to deforestation and whether it has other damaging impacts, and what can be done to involve the different people involved in producing chocolate in a combined effort to internalise the costs of sustainable production.

We are demonstrating that ecosystem resilience and maintaining a healthy forest are vital to sustain and increase cocoa productivity over time. This makes it imperative that cocoa is not produced in isolation but integrated in the landscape, building synergies with other land uses, but especially with forest resources.

We are exploring the range of benefits associated with growing cocoa under agroforestry systems, including long-term higher yield, ecosystems resilience (contributing to climate change adaptation and mitigation), and improved livelihoods (e.g. through food security and production diversification).

We are showing that land-use change and deforestation are not the only problems related to cocoa production. Efforts to 'green' supply chains should not only focus on the landscape level, but also look at a broader discussion on how to include other non-financial costs, including those caused by transport and packaging.

We are also exploring how benefits can be shared along the chain. This has involved identifying who benefits under the current arrangements and recognising that some of those involved, including retailers, currently take a significant share of the chocolate price.

As a result, we argue that those who benefit should also contribute more actively to paying the costs of promoting sustainable commodities from farmer to consumer.

The congress panellists repeatedly highlighted the need to further engage the private sector in efforts to conserve and manage natural resources more efficiently. Through our work, we are arguing that this can be a positive incentive rather than a burden, as there are many benefits for private actors to be more involved in the production of sustainable commodities.

For example, more sustainable production methods can address climate-related risks, secure long-term sustainable raw material supply, improve the product's image with consumers, and demonstrate to investors their long-term commitment to sustainability and their proactive 'preparedness' for upcoming regulations and increased societal demands.

The aim of this research is not only to compile and analyse information about cocoa production and challenges, but also to inspire the industry to continue moving forward on its efforts to become more sustainable.

We hope to help inform chocolate lovers, like you and me, about our important role in demanding more sustainable chocolate on the shelves to help drive sustainable production.

View our poster on the FAO's Foris website (PDF).

Marisa Camargo ( is a researcher at VITRI in the University of Helsinki, and a senior consultant at Indufor Oy. She is collaborating with IIED on a project looking into how to engage the private sector in REDD+ implementation.

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