Fighting Climate Change through the Cocoa Industry

Climate change threatens many of our favorite foods, but perhaps none quite as beloved by so many as chocolate.

Periodic threats of a global cocoa shortage never fail to elicit widespread panic among chocoholics, but for the millions of small-scale farmers in the tropics who depend on cocoa crops to support their families, the impacts of our warming planet create a constant threat to their livelihoods.

In this fast-paced industry, farmers often feel pressured to resort to unsustainable practices to save money and produce higher crop yields. Even as the profits of chocolate companies have continued to increase since the 1980s, the world market price for cocoa beans has declined by half. Often, farmers receive only around 6.6% of the value of a ton of cocoa sold.

In the developing world, entire countries depend on cocoa production, which makes the need for larger yields and safer practices even more important to their economy and security. Côte d’Ivoire produces 40 percent of the global cocoa supply, making cocoa essential to their economy and their ecosystem, but between 1975 and 2013, Côte d’Ivoire lost 60 percent of its once-dense tropical forests. In seven of its protected areas, forests have undergone a nearly 90 percent conversion to cocoa production. It doesn’t have to be this way, with the adoption of more sustainable farming, we can prevent this. 

Now more than ever, we are forced to re-evaluate the impacts of extreme weather on global production. There are longer dry seasons, less rainfall, and new invasive pests. With these new challenges, many farmers are increasingly desperate and resort to unsustainable farming techniques.  Through cocoa certification, the Rainforest Alliance is equipping farmers with the support and tools that are needed to adapt and better the planet and the industry by using Climate-smart agriculture (CSA). 

Climate-smart agriculture assesses the environmental risks and needs of a specific farm or community, then addresses those challenges using practices customized for that situation. This approach provides farmers with tools to make their operations more productive and resilient, while also helping to curb the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that contribute to climate change. Practices include planting cover crops, planting locally appropriate shade trees to help minimize heat stress, using natural pest and disease control, and implementing water-saving measures by constructing water-retention systems to make water available in times of drought.

In the Rainforest Alliance certification program, farms are taught to use all pillars of sustainability—social, economic, and environmental. For example, farmers must work to protect endangered species habitat and forest areas, provide workers with decent wages, and respect the rights of the land and people around them. This requires short-term and long-term investment on the part of the farmers, but produces measurably positive results. Independent studies show that the Rainforest Alliance’s training leads to increased yields and income, as well as many other long-term benefits for farmers, families, and communities that depend on cocoa.  The Rainforest Alliance puts the workers first and ensures that they can create success for themselves as well as for the earth they are cultivating.

With intense pressure to produce more crops at a low price, workers are often mistreated by their employers and unable to seek recourse. The Rainforest Alliance strictly audits certified farms to ensure this does not happen. The Rainforest Alliance recently worked in Ghana, joining forces with other organizations, to advocate directly to the government to end to child labor. The Rainforest Alliance is working with the Global Living Wage Coalition to advocate for higher wages for workers both in the cocoa industry and around the world. Together, both organizations are establishing a standard for wages for each industry.  Farmers using sustainable farming techniques are producing more, treating workers fairly, and providing higher wages and benefits.

As consumers, it is critical that we pay attention to the work and products that are behind our favorite foods. By donating to the Rainforest Alliance or by consuming Rainforest Alliance Certified™ cocoa and chocolate, each of us can support small-holder farmers and positively impact global supply chains. There are consequences for the way we treat the earth, and consumers have an important role in advocating for change. The next time you are craving a tasty treat, be sure to choose Rainforest Alliance Certified products and support the small farmers working to improve their lives and the world.

Forest canopy - photo by Sergio Izquierdo

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