Chocolate is the most recognized sweet treat globally. In fact, the annual global chocolate consumption has reached 7.2 metric tons and the demand for chocolate products is forecasted to grow even further. The world has smallholder farmers and cocoa-growing communities to thank for some of the best chocolate brands, since they produce the core ingredient from the seeds of the cocoa trees.
However, is the world’s sweet tooth destroying plant and animal biodiversity? The rising demand for chocolate led to more intense farming practices. Traditional cocoa farming focused on mass production and high-yield practices, whereby natural resources were exploited resulting in deforestation of primary forest and loss of biodiversity. Nowadays, governments in several cocoa producing countries have taken corrective action to stop the deforestation by declaring forests as protected areas and by restoring green areas through planting tree campaigns.
This article will discuss how sustainable cocoa production can benefit farmers and consumers alike. Read on to discover what you can do as chocolate lovers to protect the industry from harmful customs.
Traditional Cocoa-Growing Techniques
According to recent statistics, 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from smallholder farmers in West Africa, particularly Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Cameroon. Historically, they planted their produce randomly under thinned forest shade. This simple, low-input method explains why individual growers use most forest zones in the area to grow cocoa.
The farmers who wanted to produce more cocoa beans had to find additional planting areas to address the world’s growing demand. Apart from the lack of space, they also dealt with pests and diseases associated with growing cocoa, including mirids, beetles, flies, frosty pod rot, and swollen shoot virus.
Naturally, the top-of-mind solutions for the cocoa industry were expanding forest zones and increasing the use of chemical pesticides. Deforestation has been a major concern in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, where 25% and 8% of their primary forest was lost between 2002-2019 due to cocoa farming. A destructive cycle started in the hope of higher yield, but the cocoa farmers later discovered that these practices actually led to the opposite and did not impact production as much as they wanted. The worn-out soil and unsustainable farming practices stressed the cocoa trees and resulted in lower yields.
To eliminate deforestation from its cocoa supply chain the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and 35 leading cocoa and chocolate companies have joined together in the Cocoa & Forests Initiative in 2017. They promise that no that no further forest land will be converted for cocoa production and they commit to restoring forest land and shifting towards sustainable cocoa production and social policies. Since then 10.4 million forest trees were distributed. According to One Tree Planted, Ghana for example, aims to plant over 30 million trees in order to restore the environment.
Modern Cocoa Farming Techniques
In recent years agroforestry practices have been adapted in the cocoa industry as a viable option for sustainable cocoa production. In agroforestry systems, there are ecological and economical interactions between various factors. Essentially, these interchanges should benefit land users and environments alike.
Agroforestry is defined as agriculture with trees. The aim is to mix forest trees, fruit trees, various plant species and other food crops with cocoa trees. Cacao trees are delicate plants that grow 20 degrees north and south of the Equator in tropical areas with high rain fall. Although cocoa trees grow in full sun, they do appreciate protection from the elements, such as strong winds, intensive rainfall and solar radiation. Therefore, most cacao trees are planted among larger trees that serve as shade trees. Selecting adequate accompanying trees in cocoa agroforestry systems is complex as some shade trees might reduce the requirement for fertilizers and pesticides, but others may contribute to other pests and fungi.
Nevertheless, there are several benefits associated with agroforestry systems as shown below:
Produce Higher Income
A Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) 2017 study assessed the productivity and return of labor of cacao agroforestry in Bolivia. It compared the long-term income of full-sun monocultures where farmers only grow cacao trees and agroforestry systems where they plant cacao trees with shade trees and by-crops.
The findings showed promising results. They demonstrated that the return on labor - or income per working day - was almost twice as high in agroforestry systems versus monocultures. Agroforestry requires more work hours, but because of additional trees to maintain, farmers can earn more by using the technique.
Protect The Environment
The Climate Change Resource Center shares that agroforestry is a helpful tool in climate change adaptation and mitigation because of the following capabilities: reduce threats and enhance landscape resiliency, help move species to more favorable conditions, sequester carbon and minimize greenhouse gas emissions.
Agroforestry offers a distinct advantage for climate change efforts because the woody plant approach adds functional diversity to any ecosystem. Using agroforestry to improve climate change resiliency is not a new idea. During the 1930s, individuals overseeing the Prairie States Forestry Project planted windbreaks to enhance crop yields and protect soil health. The strategy has proven effective in improving landscape resiliency against environmental threats.
Various factors cause biodiversity loss, including climate change, overexploitation, invasive species, habitat loss, and pollution. Using agroforestry — or planting trees on farms — is a potential solution to these concerns. A study conducted by the World Cocoa Foundation in Cameroon and Ghana found that shade cocoa farms had twice as much plant and animal species, such as birds and pollinators in comparison with nearby forest sites. They also produced higher quality cocoa. Historically, West Africa had a long tradition of shade-grown cocoa and farmers are now reverting back to traditional methods. The biodiversity-friendly practice enables farmers across West Africa to receive higher prices for their cocoa and recover a large portion of the land lost to deforestation and land degradation each year without the need for more land conversion.
Agroforestry systems ensure a longer product life-cycle as a result of the mixture of agricultural products available for retail, greater climatic resilience and a more stable and diversified income for farmers. Today, there are non-profit organizations helping farmers in West Africa grow cacao effectively without harming the environment.
How Can Consumers Support Farmers?
As a consumer, is there a way to support such initiatives? The answer is an astounding yes! You can support them by getting involved with groups like One Tree Planted. One Tree Planted is a non-profit organization with one goal in mind: to achieve global reforestation. The institution wants to simplify the process of helping the environment by planting one tree for every dollar donated to the cause.
The group believes that donors and volunteers can restore forests, create biodiverse habitats, and make the world a better place, one tree at a time. Since 2014, One Tree Planted has doubled the number of trees planted annually across over 43 countries, including Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Cameroon. After almost ten years, the group now has over 260 planting partners and has planted over 40,000,000 trees. In 2021 alone, organizers and supporters planted 23.5 million trees. This year, the goal is to grow twice that number!
Our store, Chocolate & More Delights, supports this initiative and we invite our customers to plant a tree with every order. Customers can simply add a tree to their shopping basket when they shop their favorite German candies with us. Together, we can support cocoa farmers around the world to earn more, protect the environment, and restore biodiversity. Shop now to enjoy various German chocolate treats while making a difference in farmers’ lives. Thanks for stopping by.
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