Securing the Future of Chocolate: Climate-Smart Cocoa in Ghana

By Raneem Alterkawi posted 19 days ago


Panel discussion hosted by Dr Rebecca Asare, Director of Programmes and Research at the Nature Conservation Research Centre, Dr Emmanuel Opoku, Deputy CEO of Ghana Cocoa Board, Yaw Kwakye, Manager of Forest Services Division at Forestry Commission of Ghana, and Ethan Budiansky, Director of Environment at the World Cocoa Foundation.

It might be simple to finish a chocolate bar in one sitting, but behind every piece is a complex supply chain. As the world’s second largest producer of cocoa beans, Ghana’s government has partnered with cocoa and chocolate companies, NGOs, and civil society to support Ghana’s forests and climate-smart cocoa production. Dr Opoku defined this method of production as cocoa that has been sustainably produced along the supply chain, specifically regarding its growth alongside other trees to enhance biodiversity and restore forests. This partnership was created as a result of research that showed the correlation between increased cocoa production and deforestation, putting the future of chocolate supply at risk.

Yes, you read that correctly! Can you imagine a world without chocolate? I certainly cannot. Dr Asare discussed how inefficient cocoa production has been a leading factor in deforestation, posing threats to biodiversity, and eventually, chocolate supply. Dr Opoku affirmed that the challenges arising from cocoa production began when farmers learned that the Theobroma Cacao tree could grow successfully without shade. Research by the University of Ghana, NCRC, CRIG, and the University of Reading showed that through this production method, increased yields would lead to decreased carbon storage, contributing to the global climate crisis and rising temperatures. However, the data also demonstrated that certain farms were able to attain high yields without compromising forestry. Interest in the production methods of these farms was the driving factor behind the establishment of the Ghana Cocoa Forest REDD+ Programme in 2017, in which the Ghana Cocoa Board and Forestry Commission collaborated to develop a climate-smart cocoa strategy, which was later supported by the government and private sector.

In the same year, 35 global chocolate production companies collaborated with the Governments of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire and committed to four main objectives – a no deforestation supply chain, forest restoration, climate-smart farming practices, and improving farmers’ and communities’ wellbeing. They also supported the Ghanaian government with investment in these landscapes. This partnership was powerful in that it combined the efforts of both governmental institutions and the private sector. Budiansky affirmed that collaborative effort is key in eliminating deforestation from the cocoa sector. In order to create a successful model for sustainable cocoa production, it was necessary that the programme supported farmers to do so. Dr Opoku mentioned two important initiatives: irrigation to mitigate the effects of inconsistent precipitation and the “vertical approach” which allows farmers to obtain higher yields in their area, without further expansion into forested areas. Through these initiatives, members of this programme have been working to build the landscape governance structures, extend climate-smart cocoa and economic diversification, monitor emissions, biodiversity, and socio-economic impacts, and lastly, research the impacts these activities have on farmers.

Like most current systems, data shows that the production methods which have allowed Ghana to be a leading producer of cocoa beans are not sustainable in the long run. In fact, without implementing change, this supply chain will contribute to further rainfall reduction and high temperatures, putting more areas of land at risk of losing their production properties. This would be detrimental to Ghana’s economy which heavily relies on cocoa beans for foreign exchange. With the collective action of all partners of the Ghana Cocoa Forest REDD+ Programme, a sustainable cocoa production industry is possible, exemplifying the importance of a collaborative effort from organisations – both governmental and private in overcoming global challenges.