Chocolates made with rich cocoa are undoubtedly one of the most exquisite food items to indulge in. The origins of cocoa cultivation can be traced back thousands of years to the Southern Americans, who deserve our appreciation for introducing us to this delectable treat. However, it is important to acknowledge the bittersweet reality of its environmental impact and the various challenges it poses.
Land Clearance and Forest destruction
One concerning issue is the illegal deforestation and land clearance practices associated with cocoa farming in Western Africa, where approximately 70% of the population is involved in such activities. The clearing of forested lands not only diminishes biodiversity but also degrades the quality of soil. In tropical crop forests, new cocoa trees are often planted instead of rejuvenating the existing ones on the same field.
While farmers believe this helps replenish soil nutrients, it actually reduces yields and hampers future crop growth. Although the government in some parts of Ghana has implemented protective measures for forests, the surge in cocoa demand has still led to the destruction of 50% of these forested areas.
Imbalance in ecosystems
In 2017, NGO Mighty Earth published a report highlighting the sourcing of illegally grown cocoa by different companies, shedding light on the devastating impact on wildlife populations. In addition to deforestation, cocoa farming contributes to an increasing greenhouse effect and climate change, disrupting the delicate environmental balance. Sediments from cocoa farming also pollute waterways, reducing water supplies and severely impacting streams and rivers.
Labour and Child Exploitation
As the demand for chocolate grew, the producers in West Africa faced exploitation, receiving meager wages that often fell below the poverty line. According to a report by Dr. Fromm, farmers were earning less than a dollar for their efforts. Powerful companies exerted pressure on them to drive down cocoa prices and increase the supply chain, leaving farmers with little negotiating power. Another factor is the long and complex chain of intermediaries between cocoa farmers and manufacturing giants, which further reduces the farmers' contact with these influential players, directly affecting their earnings.
Furthermore, the industry is plagued by the distressing issue of child labor. Children, numbering around 2 million according to a survey conducted in 2013-14, are forced into hazardous work, depriving them of their rights and education. Contractors often lure these children with promises of decent pay. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has condemned this practice as the "worst" form of labor.
Finding a middle ground
It is crucial that the current unsustainable practices in cocoa farming are replaced with healthier and more responsible production methods. This can be achieved by increasing productivity through engaging local communities and minimizing the expansion of farms. Implementing a 100% slave-free norm, educating both consumers and farmers, and promoting sustainable practices will help combat pollution and exploitation. Long-term investments in farmers will improve relationships, enhance financial stability, and foster a sense of shared stake holding. Furthermore, authorities should provide better irrigation and harvesting techniques to farmers to reduce crop diseases, improve bean quality, and manage land sustainability. The utilization of solar energy for drying cocoa beans, even during the rainy season, can also contribute to sustainability efforts. These sustainable measures can alleviate market demand pressures and mitigate land degradation.
By addressing these pressing concerns and taking proactive steps towards sustainability, the chocolate industry can uphold ethical standards while continuing to delight chocolate enthusiasts worldwide.