When the subject of deforestation comes up, four large drivers often come to mind: beef, palm oil, soy and timber. But the global demand for chocolate is also causing its share of deforestation, especially in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, which by most accounts are the world's two largest producers of cocoa beans.

Côte d’Ivoire has lost almost half of its original forest cover; estimates suggest Ghana’s tropical forest areas are now only a quarter of their original size. With 3 million tons of cocoa and chocolate products made annually, this $100 billion industry is at risk of long-term decline if cocoa farmers cannot become more careful stewards of the land, say WWF and other NGOs.

The Prince of Wales has taken a keen interest in the cocoa sector and its impact on forests across the globe.

Last week, Prince Charles hosted a meeting that included representatives of the world’s largest chocolate manufacturers, including Mars, Nestlé, Mondel?z and Hershey. Delegations from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the countries that will be the focus of this initiative, also attended.

The outcome of the meeting in London is a statement of intent that aims to bring corporate, government and civil society together in order to halt deforestation and forest degradation brought on by the chocolate industry.

Other companies pledging to work on this effort include producers and suppliers Blommer, Cargill, Olam, and Touton; chocolatiers Barry Callebaut and Ferrero have also given their support.

A more detail framework will be announced later this year at the COP23 climate talks scheduled to occur in Bonn, Germany.

Many of these companies, which also produce palm oil or use the ingredient in their products, have already established deforestation policies in some form. They weren't left with much choice, as NGOs have been successful in educating consumers about the impact the global food industry’s supply chain has on both human rights and the planet.

Mars, for example, says it has taken several steps to mitigate deforestation. The company also insists it has embarked on a program to work with cocoa farmers to boost yields while teaching them more sustainable farming practices. For the most part, WWF has been supportive of Mars’ efforts, especially when it comes to palm oil, the ingredient that helps give many chocolate products their smooth and silky consistency.

Mondel?z, which spun off from Kraft Foods in 2012, also discloses its own deforestation policy. The company launched a program in late 2015 to use market-based approaches to stop deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire, and one of the initiative’s goals was to work with 26,000 small-scale cocoa farmers in the country. The company, which owns brands such as Cadbury, Milka and Toblerone, also received high marks from WWF for its anti-deforestation work elsewhere within its supply chain.

Many of these companies had fractious relationships with environmental organizations in the past over the chocolate industry’s ties to deforestation and human rights violations. Earlier this decade, for example, Greenpeace savaged Nestlé for what it said were the links between popular chocolate bar brands like Kit Kat and environmental destruction.

Nestlé has since launched a deforestation policy, and several years later Greenpeace praised the company (as well as Ferrero) for making significant progress within its supply chain. But those corporate commitments are mostly focused on palm oil. Cocoa has largely stayed under the radar, as outrage over palm oil’s impact in Indonesia and Malaysia scored more news headlines and more attention.

Now these companies have put cocoa front and center.

The first challenge this group will face, once it establishes a framework, is communicating the broad goals -- which include sustainable farming practices, women’s empowerment and land restoration. Unlike palm oil, which is mostly grown on large plantations managed by huge companies, cocoa farming involves millions of small farmers, many of whom toil for about $1 a day.

These companies will have to rely on the governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana for these programs to scale; and neither of these countries rank particularly high on the anti-corruption front.

The challenges are huge, but the chocolate industry really had no other option if it is going to survive in the long run.

Image credit: Nestlé/Flickr

Published earlier today on Triple Pundit.

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he specializes in social media consulting and strategic communications. A journalist and writer since 2009, his work has appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Areas of interest include the <a Middle East, sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (Leon Kaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). Since 2013, he has spent much of his time in Abu Dhabi, UAE, working with Masdar, the emirate's renewable energy company. He lives in Fresno, California.