Supply chain strategy | Opinion

Game-changing cocoa framework a model for other commodities?

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Now better handled in west Africa

The new initiative in west Africa uniting government, business and local stakeholders to eliminate deforestation from cocoa supply chain could be replicated elsewhere

One of the more interesting, and potentially game changing, announcements to emerge at the COP23 meeting in Bonn was that made by chocolate and cocoa companies, along with the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

As the world’s two biggest cocoa-producing nations, they joined forces with a number of the big cocoa buyers to pledge themselves to so-called Frameworks for Action, promising that no more forest will be lost to cocoa and that forest areas would be restored.

Mars, Nestlé, Barry Callebaut, Mondelez and Cargill are among the companies that are part of the new commitment that will also see illegal cocoa production in national parks eliminated thanks to stronger enforcement of national forest policies and the development of alternative livelihoods for affected farmers.

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The public-private collective has agreed to “accelerate investment” in the production of cocoa so that supply is secured for the longer term. The focus will be on growing more cocoa on less land, and farmers will need better planting materials, training in the best agricultural practices, and capacity-building of farmers’ organisations.

The hope is that, by making good on these commitments, cocoa becomes a “serious agroforestry crop, where different trees and crops co-exist on the same land and previously deforested land is being rehabilitated,” as Mars’ chief procurement and sustainability officer, Barry Parkin puts it.

Of course, there have been similar commodity-focused commitments made in the past, with a mix of resulting impacts. But what makes this new framework approach “truly unique” is the fact that “there is no other commodity for which governments, industry and NGOs have come together to agree on concrete measures to eradicate deforestation”, says Christiaan Prins, head of external affairs at Barry Callebaut.

Trust and accountability

Richard Scobey, president of the World Cocoa Foundation agrees, saying that building trust and accountability for joint action is crucial. “Agreeing on core principles, and identifying and implementing concrete interventions tailored to the local economic, social, and environmental characteristics are the game changers to ensure a deforestation-free supply chain,” he says.

It is the development of an action plan that identifies the critical steps and realistic timeframe to end deforestation and forest degradation for a specific country and landscape that really sets this apart from commitments that have gone before, Scobey adds.

The social element to the commitment and framework, which focuses on finding alternative livelihoods for those farmers affected by the promises made, is also seen as hugely important. “Deforestation is as much a social problem in west Africa, as it is an environmental problem,” Prins says.

Applicable elsewhere?

So, could this approach act as a model for those grappling with similar challenges across other commodity supply chains? Scobey certainly thinks so, describing what has been collectively achieved so far as a “powerful model for change that is replicable in other sectors”.

Even Mighty Earth, one of the key antagonists of the cocoa sector’s response to deforestation, seems excited by the new approach. “Perhaps too late, companies have realised the problem and are now taking action. And it’s a great model for action,” says CEO Glenn Hurowitz.

He says the cocoa sector should extend the commitment beyond west Africa, to parts of Indonesia, the Congo basin and Peru where “there is plenty of degraded land to be used and no reason to engage in deforestation”.

Clearly, the process of developing a framework that suits and benefits many companies and the governments representing the people working in the cocoa fields is complex.

Scobey says that creating the Frameworks for Action has been “intense”, involving the engagement of more than 500 stakeholders over the past few months.

The Cocoa and Forests Initiative, which is behind the new frameworks, was initiated by IDH – the Sustainable Trade Initiative, the World Cocoa Foundation and the Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit, in partnership with the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

Moving forwards, if such lofty commitments are to be successfully implemented, ongoing engagement, collaboration and joint working by all stakeholders will need to continue, at scale.

Please note this article has been slighted updated to reflect the partnership behind the Cocoa and Forests Initiative.

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