Feature Story

Shifting the needle on cocoa production practices worldwide

January 13, 2020

Clavelina Sánchez on her Nueva California farm in central Peru.
This GEF-funded project aims to change production and business practices in major cocoa producing countries and chocolate companies, towards conserving biodiversity. Photo: Rainforest Alliance

Did you know that, typically, less than 7 percent of the price of your chocolate bar goes to cocoa producers? Or that large amounts of global cocoa production are associated with illegal deforestation and biodiversity losses?

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and partners have been working for many years on projects aimed at making the cocoa industry more environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Greening the Cocoa Industry is one of those projects. Its objective is to change production and business practices in major cocoa producing countries and chocolate companies, towards conserving biodiversity, providing greater long-term stability to all value chain participants, and increasing income for smallholder farmers.

“Our farm is sustainable because it is diversified,” says Clavelina Sánchez on her Nueva California farm in Junin Department in the Selva region of central Peru. “We have coffee, cocoa, bananas, oranges, achiote, yuca, uncucha, chickens, timber and more.

“When it comes to cocoa production, our farm serves as a model: other farmers [come to] receive training and see practical examples. We follow our principles and we practice them: sustainable agriculture and production diversification helps us generate more income. We take care of the biodiversity and improve our quality of life. For example, we have been shown [by the project] how we can use kudzu and comelinas native trees for shade and as soil coverage.

“Our main objective is to take care of the soil and manage it appropriately. This is important to get a healthy and productive harvest that will give us enough food and income for our families.”

Globally, the project covers at least 10 percent of the world’s cocoa production—350,000 metric tons, farmed on 750,000 hectares by 250,000 farmers, and addresses the drivers of biodiversity loss, including habitat change and over-exploitation. It also supports the development of certification systems for cocoa best management practices that conserve biodiversity.

“The project’s overall goal of linking the sustainability of the cocoa landscape to the conservation of important biodiversity hotspots has great potential for up-scaling,” says Johan Robinson, head of UNEP’s Global Environment Facility Biodiversity and Land Degradation Unit.

Project results

The use of the Sustainable Agriculture Network standard requirements as a tool to promote sustainability on the farm while conserving biodiversity in and around the farm has been effective.

Project auditors have certified the compliance of 182,362 farms to the Sustainable Agricultural Network standard, for a total of 896,654 hectares, including 64,559 hectares of farmland set aside for protection. The project has also contributed to conserve biodiversity in some selected cocoa growing landscapes, such as with the Tai Project in Côte d'Ivoire, the Juabeso/Bia Project in Ghana, and the Kanyang project in Nigeria.

These activities have been supported by the more than 54 market brands and retailers that committed to sustainability. 

These corporate commitments contributed significantly to the additional $24.5 million in co-financing that the project was able to attract over its life, while communication messages helped increase awareness for consumers and farmers about the value of sustainable practices.   

Sales of Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa now represent 5 percent of global sales. In addition, a much larger amount of cocoa is being produced sustainably than is being sold as Rainforest Alliance Certified.

The Sustainable Agricultural Network/Rainforest Alliance cocoa program has seen much growth over the past five years, with around 1 million hectares of cocoa farmland in 15 countries achieving Sustainable Agricultural Network/Rainforest Alliance certification in 2016. Network/Alliance certified cocoa now comprises 13.6 percent of the world’s cocoa supply, with ever more commitments by large cocoa buyers to source sustainable cocoa.

Rainforest Alliance, in collaboration with the World Cocoa Foundation, has created manuals for climate-smart production to support long-term climate resilience.

Greening the Cocoa Industry, a 2013–2019 project funded by the Global Environment Facility and implemented by UNEP, covers Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ghana, Guinea, Indonesia, Nigeria, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and Peru, and has full government support in each country.

This story was originally published by the UN Environment Programme.