On Thursday November 10, at COP27 it felt like there was only one place to be. The Cocoa and Forest Initiative (CFI) side event in the Ghana pavilion had the audience literally spilling out into the corridor. And more than a few passers-by, curious as to what was causing so much fuss, stayed on, at first intrigued and then enthusiastic about what they heard. Apparently, it isn’t only CFI signatories that recognise the potential impact CFI could have.
It wasn’t just the numbers attending that was impressive, it was also the prominence of participants at the event. As well as high level speakers representing key parties in the cocoa industry, other significant dignitaries decided to attend on the day, drawn by growing interest around the event. This included two additional ministers from Ghana (Minister of Environment and Deputy Minister of Lands and Natural Resources and two Ministers from Côte d’Ivoire (Ministers of Environment and Agriculture), five Ghanaian parliamentarians and the CEO of the Ghanaian Forestry Commission.
Breaking the stalemate
The opening speaker, Samuel Jinapor, Ghana’s Minister for Lands & Natural Resources, said cocoa is more than a cash crop or trade commodity for Ghana. It is part of its history. CFI has already delivered significant progress in terms of forest restoration of degraded land, he said. This was done through tree planting, landscape awareness, climate-smart agriculture, cocoa traceability and the development of a national forest monitoring system. “Ghana reduced deforestation by 13% in 2021” Mr. Jinapor said, “and CFI played a key role in this.” Nevertheless, there are major challenges ahead and the signatories committed themselves to the implementation of CFI’s second phase.
Mr. Jinapor stressed that signatories must address cocoa pricing. “It’s one thing saying farmers must adopt sustainable farming methods, but how can they do that if they receive close to nothing in income from this billion-dollar industry?” The farmers need to be put at the heart of our thinking. Farmers need to see real benefits from changing their farming practices if we are to move beyond the current stalemate. That also calls for partnership, and the Minister called on various stakeholders, including the private sector, the EU and development partners to invest in forest legislation and governance, traceability, rehabilitation and other areas. “Cocoa farming can and must be done sustainably,” concluded Mr. Jinapor, “and partnership will be vital in ensuring this.
Laurant Tchagba, Côte d’Ivoire’s Minister of Water & Forests said that with deforestation as a huge threat to his country, it is important to remember that the fates of the forest and the farmer are inextricably entwined.
Mr. Tchagba said CFI aims to restore 30% of the country’s forests by 2030 and stressed the importance of widening collaboration. “Working together on decarbonisation and halting climate change, we need to put cocoa and forestry protection into the legislative framework, and build partnerships that pull in other policy areas, such as labour, agriculture and the environment.” He estimated it will cost US$16 billion to deliver all the CFI initiatives and goals planned for Côte d’Ivoire, so it is vital also to use the partnership to mobilise funds.
IDH CEO, Daan Wensing, spoke on the strength of CFI, that the commitment comes from both the public and private sectors. “We’ve got government in place and the framework in place, and now both sectors need to step out of their comfort zones to really collaborate.” He added that with forests so critical for hitting climate targets, the international community beyond the CFI signatories will have to embrace CFI and play its role.
Chris Vincent, President of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), felt we are already seeing the benefits of CFI collaboration. “It allows the private sector to invest in areas such as traceability and agroforestry. The companies are committed to investment in the cocoa forest sector and working closely with government, and more investment will be needed to continue moving forward.”
Kevin Rabinovitch, Global VP, Sustainability and Chief Climate of Mars Inc., said there was a need for companies to address the issue of deforestation in the supply chain and update their net-zero commitments to incorporate deforestation-free. His colleague, Rob Cameron, Vice President Global Head of Public Affairs at Nestlé, described a three-pillar approach to achieving net-zero for a company like his. First, adopt a landscape, forest-positive approach: not just stopping deforestation, but invest in reforestation. Secondly, assure regeneration of agricultural land and thirdly, assure a long-lasting transition by working with farmers.
Nestlé is paying farmers a premium for regenerative agriculture and sustainable production, Mr. Cameron said, and added that companies like Mars and Nestlé need to work together on this kind of issue. “We need to get more valuable cocoa from less land, and we need to decommodify cocoa.” He felt CFI was helping companies work towards these priorities and there is now a need for collaborative action.
Janet Rogan, UK COP Ambassador for Africa, described how the UK government has been working with companies to train 50,000 farmers to produce cocoa that is socially inclusive and environmentally friendly, and working with smallholder action groups to identify and scale-up effective practices. Ms. Rogan said the UK government was keen to expand this concept to other countries, is committed to forest sustainability and sees CFI featuring high in this vision.
The speeches were followed by a short but lively Q&A session. Over the longer-term a big role was envisioned for farmers in carbon sequestration. One delegate asked where value addition such as these fits in with the process of decommodifying cocoa. The responses from panel members touched on the importance of transparency and need for industry-wide efforts to ensure this is the end of the commodity era. However, while governments, NGOs and companies are committed, investors also need to get on board and retailers, too, should be doing more.
It was asked how, in the context of the certification process and upcoming EU regulations, we can ensure farmers aren’t having to put more into their processes only to earn less. Panel members said the landscape approach was the best way forward, because once the landscape is verified, we can all work together. So there is a need to secure additional funding to upscale landscape work.
Mr. Jinapor stressed that, with all these issues, companies need to work with governments to put the farmer at the centre of the sustainable cocoa industry, citing the Nestlé regenerative agriculture programme as a good example of this.
On the opportunities for collaboration, Mr. Wensing ended things by saying that other major cocoa producing countries are interested in joining CFI, strengthening the collaborative impact CFI can have.
Events like this are not just about what is said. The atmosphere in which those statements are made often gives a good indication of how impactful it will actually be going forward. The positive vibe around the CFI side-event was nicely captured in one small moment. Many passer-by’s stayed on till the end of the event to pick up additional information on the initiative. Whether at the level of CFI signatories or more grassroots, making connections that can deliver new alliances, solutions or breakthroughs down the line is ultimately what such events are all about.