22 September 2020 -- Commodity supply-chain industries such as cocoa, soy, beef, palm oil and paper/pulp must do their part to stop and reverse deforestation, but this is a very complex and interconnected problem with no quick fix. It requires collective action from multiple stakeholders. Government, business, non-governmental organizations and local communities all have their own roles to play. It is only when these roles are interconnected that we can drive real systemic change and tackle the underlying causes of deforestation.

As one of more than 160 official partners of the key multistakeholder convenor advancing the transition to deforestation-free commodities supply chains – the Tropical Forest Alliance hosted by the World Economic Forum – we at Olam Cocoa understand the value of this collective action approach.

For cocoa production, there are many of causes of deforestation, including a lack of awareness and education about environmental issues. But at the heart of the problem is low farmer incomes. Most cocoa farmers have small amounts of land with low yields that do not generate enough income to fully support their families. To bring in extra income, some farmers may resort to clearing more land, leading to a loss of forest and biodiversity.

If we can enable cocoa farmers to improve productivity and earn a living income on their existing land, we can make great strides in reducing deforestation. After all, simply sensitizing farmers to the negative effects of deforestation has limited impact if cutting down trees is the only way a farmer believes they can financially support their family. Creating an environment in which a farmer can increase his income without causing deforestation, in a meaningful and lasting way, requires the participation of many different stakeholders.

Governments in cocoa farming regions clearly have a stake and they have big legislative and regulatory levers they can pull to help tackle these issues. For example, the governments of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana have introduced a Living Income Differential, securing an extra $400 per metric tonne of cocoa beans for cocoa farmers. Olam Cocoa was one of the first cocoa suppliers to confirm its support for the initiative.

In Côte d'Ivoire, the government has also revised the forestry code, aimed at preserving, rehabilitating and extending the country’s forests. It reinforces the role of agroforestry, incentivizing farmers to plant other native plants alongside cocoa, by granting long-term concessions to companies or small farmers to grow perennial crops and maintain forest cover.

Industry has its own role to play. Companies like Olam Cocoa are close to individual farmers. We have a year-round presence in the major cocoa-producing countries and regularly spend time in the field visiting with the local cooperatives, community leaders and farmers in our direct supply chain. Companies such as ours know the specific problems these groups face and so can contribute to facilitating solutions that benefit them.

By working together with the farmers and communities, we can record the agricultural practices of individual farms, as well as GPS map data, such as farm size. This information can then be used to create individualized farm development plans for farmers, to help them make the most of their land and enhance their entrepreneurial attitude towards their farms. This comes with personalized advice, from how much fertilizer to use, to how and when to prune. We benefit as well, by being able to implement traceability at the farm level.

This understanding of individual farmers, gained through this forest-positive collective action among industry, government and communities, helps companies to provide the right support at the right time. For example, working together with customers, it enables us at Olam to provide technical assistance, one-on-one coaching and access to rural credit to many of the communities from which we source cocoa. We also encourage farmers to diversify their income, reinforcing this with village savings and loan schemes. 

With their different strengths, industry and governments are most effective in tackling deforestation, while sustainably increasing the value of production, when we work together. The Cocoa & Forests Initiative is an example of this in action, an important collaboration between the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and the leading cocoa and chocolate companies dedicated to protecting forests.

It has been heartening to see the progress reported by companies taking part in the Cocoa & Forests Initiative. At Olam Cocoa alone, we have worked with customers and civil society organizations to distribute almost one million shade and forest trees in the last year, taught agroforestry to over 78,000 farmers, professionalized youth community teams, conducted deforestation risk assessments and are now working with the government of Côte d’Ivoire to protect two classified forests.

But collective action does not just mean governments, civil society and companies. It also means engaging and mobilizing entire communities to take action to support farmers and protect forests. From engaging trusted community leaders who can liaise with others through landscape management committees, to helping women’s and youth’s associations in cocoa farming villages to provide support to their members.

Another example of this valuable collective effort with our customers and government partners to increase productivity in the cocoa sector, was realized in Ghana. Together, we arranged for young adults to help farmers by pruning an acre of cocoa farm to improve productivity or by planting seedlings, with the labour costs covered by Olam Cocoa. More trees are planted, farmers benefit from better yields, and employment opportunities are created for the next generation – our collective action created collective benefits.

More projects are in the pipeline that are built on this principle of collective action. In Ghana, we are working with partners such as the Forestry Commission and Rainforest Alliance – another partner of the Tropical Forest Alliance – as well as local farmers and communities, to bring 155,000 hectares of land under sustainable management in the Sefwi Wiawso landscape by 2021. We and other companies that understand the benefit of collective action now have similar projects all around the world.

Ultimately, we are stronger together. Deforestation is a complicated problem and industry, governments, non-governmental organizations and communities need to unite to drive a profound and systemic change. Together we can protect and restore forests, improve cocoa farmer livelihoods, and create an environmentally positive and professionalized cocoa supply chain.

Learn more about the Cocoa & Forests Initiative.

Learn more about the Tropical Forest Alliance’s forest-positive Collective Action Agenda, and how your company or organization can become involved.

Learn more about Olam Cocoa's sustainability commitments.



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