Report finds EU cocoa beans from Cote d’Ivoire farmed from deforested land in neighboring Liberia

The NGO presented its findings at this week’s World Cocoa Conference in Brussels and recommended that the European Union law on deforestation be urgently implemented to strengthen supply chain traceability mechanisms significantly.

The conclusions of the field investigation were presented by Bakary Traoré, Executive Director of the Ivorian NGO (IDEF) and the report’s main author. It claims to highlight that the traceability mechanisms used by companies sourcing cocoa from Cote d’Ivoire are promoting the destruction of forests in neighboring Liberia.

Traoré said the report argues that these mechanisms should be replaced by the robust and transparent national traceability system now in place in Cote d’Ivoire.

“Work is currently underway in Cote d’Ivoire to set up a national traceability system. Under this system, all plots of land in Cote d’Ivoire will be geolocated, and producers will be registered. A map of producers, including a barcode system, will also indicate what individual farms can produce and track their sales,” he said.

“Our investigation shows the importance of speeding up the work begun by the Ivorian authorities. Current traceability systems were set up by the chocolate companies and are controlled by them. They are not transparent, and our investigation found them to be flawed. To resolve the problem and comply with new European regulations, traders in raw materials will have to change their approach.”

Demand for cocoa outpacing supply

Demand for cocoa beans is outpacing supply, and they must pass through a complex market made up of various parties acting as intermediaries between small, poorly paid cocoa farmers and retailers.

The EU has taken a decisive step by adopting the European Union Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) for products linked to deforestation and forest degradation in June 2023.

As of December 2024, it will be illegal to import and market cocoa beans that, after 2020, were harvested on plots of land deforested to create farms.

Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s largest producer of cocoa, with 75% of its production absorbed within Europe as its single privileged consumer. This includes 90% of France’s imports and 70 % of Germany’s.

The IDEF report reveals that as land becomes less productive, farmers clear another area of forest and replant it with cocoa trees.

“The figures speak for themselves: with 16 million hectares at the beginning of the 20th century (source: REDD+), by 1986, Cote d’Ivoire’s forests had shrunk to 7.85 million hectares. By 2020, when the government clamped down, a mere 2.9 million hectares remained,” findings reveal.

Tropical forests

The investigation also shows that the situation is driving Ivorian growers to migrate to the fertile lands of neighbouring Liberia, home to more than half of West Africa’s remaining tropical forests.

In the three Liberian villages that were the report’s focus, residents stated that, with this migration, no fewer than “183 producers have settled in recent years, 60 between December 2023 and January 2024 alone.

Not only is there new deforestation taking place, but there is also a lack of infrastructure in Liberia for growers to export their beans. As a result, once harvested, the cocoa beans are carried back to Cote d’Ivoire on people’s backs.

The investigators said they found that Liberian beans were easily mixed with local products, indiscriminately filling bags intended for ordinary sale and those destined for export and certified accordingly. “This undermines a system meant to prevent cheating and importing beans from other countries,” they said.

The investigators also call on the EU to implement robust controls as part of the due diligence required by EUDR to help curb this.

“The cocoa industry has pledged to end deforestation, but our investigation shows that this is still not happening. EU regulation on deforestation represents a historic opportunity to finally honor the commitment,” said Traoré.

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