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Deforestation and 'Dirty Chocolate'

Deforestation and 'Dirty Chocolate'

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Saturday, October 21, 2017/Categories: wildlife conservation, sustainability, environment

A new brand of chocolate has begun appearing on world markets. Unfortunately, 'dirty chocolate' leaves a decidedly bad aftertaste with forest destruction in its prodcution path.

When Cortez entered what is now Mexico city, he found the Aztecs consuming a beverage made from cacao beans, Theobroma cacao. Gathered from tropical rainforests, the Meso-americans considered cacao to be the "fruit of the gods". After subjugating the native peoples, the conquistadors carried samples of plant back to Europe and an industry based on cacao began. Chocolate is now the world's most popular confection with 2016 sales nearly $100 billion globally.

Cacao is a rainforest tree so it can only be grown in the wet tropics with the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Indonesia being the top five producers. Production of chocolate is dominated by Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, and the United States as the top chocolate producers. International candy makers including Mars, Hershey, Cadbury, and Godiva are recognized brand names worldwide in chocholate manufacturing.

Within the past 15 years, a sun-tolerant variety of cacao tree was developed with research support by international agricultural development agencies. Sun cacao does not require to be grown under the shade of tropical shade trees and has allowed for rapid expansion of cacao production. Unfortunately, a major and unintended consequence of this cultivation increase has been rapid tropical deforestation wherever sun cacao is grown. A new report, from the environmental organization Mighty Earth, details the conversion of once primary tropical forests into cocao production in multiple countries. Major findings in Chocolate's Dark Secret include:

cacao production has illegally moved into national parks and protected areas in the Ivory Coast where 90% of the land mass in some parks has been converted; less than four percent of Ivory Coast now remains densely forested; extensive deforestation for cacao has occurred in Ghana as well; the market for cocao is highly concentrated making the middlemen and international companies who control the market directly involved in deforestation; as cacao production declines in West Africa its production model is now being exported to other tropical regions including the Peruian Andes, the Congo Basin, and Southeast Asia.


           Cacao pod and beans (credit: Wikicommons)                           Box of Fancy Chocolates (credit: file photo)

However, according to the Mighty Earth report some potentially important changes are coming. Earlier this year, Britain's Prince Charles convened CEOs and senior leaders from 34 chocolate industry companies urging them to act on deforestation. The companies pledged to have a concrete plan to present at Bonn climate summit in Germany this fall. Likewise, the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation progam or REDD has selected the Ivory Coast as a 'proving ground' for their initiative to use reforestation in a direct action to counter climate change. The Ivory Coast deforestation and the collaborative REED plans are described in this video:

Only time will only tell if these positive international actions are effective and are not 'too llittle, too late'. Consumers have a role they that would make direct impact. Initiating campaigns preventing 'dirty chocolate' from appearing on supermarket shelves, if they don't have a 'deforestation free' labels, would carry a strong message to the big chocolatiers.



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