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Nestle steps up reforestation project in Ivory Coast

VEVEY, SWITZERLAND (AFP) – Nestle is stepping up its project to combat deforestation in Ivory Coast caused by the growth of cocoa farming, bringing cocoa trading companies directly on board.

Ivory Coast is the world’s largest cocoa producer, at 40 per cent of the global market.

The west African country had 16 million hectares of forest in the 1960s – a figure which is now down to less than three million, mainly due to cocoa plantations.

Nestle, the Swiss food giant behind chocolate brands like KitKat and Smarties, launched a project in 2020 aimed at restoring and protecting the Cavally Forest in southwest Ivory Coast.

One of the last remaining dense forests in the country, Cavally is a biodiversity reserve covering more than 67,000 hectares, but is threatened by deforestation linked to the cocoa industry and illegal gold panning.

The Nestle project was a partnership with the Ivorian government and the Earthworm Foundation, an NGO that led the project’s implementation.

A cocoa farmer dries cocoa beans in Satikran in eastern Ivory Coast. The country is the world’s biggest cocoa producer. PHOTO: AFP

At a media briefing this week at its headquarters in Vevey on Lake Geneva, Nestle said the first phase had led to “a significant reduction in deforestation”, with the natural regeneration of 7,000 hectares and the reforestation of almost 1,500 hectares.

For its second three-year phase, the Swiss trading company Cocoasource and the French firm Touton, which work directly with cocoa and rubber cooperatives in the area affected, have been brought on board.

The project has a budget of CHF4 million (USD4.45 million).

It aims to strengthen the resilience of the communities on the edge of the forest, and improve the transparency and traceability of the cocoa and rubber supply chain.

Touton, which specialises in trading cocoa, coffee, vanilla and spices, wanted to join the project “because the first phase worked”, deputy managing director Joseph Larrose told AFP.

“Collective effort makes it possible to protect the forest.”

Restoring the Cavally Forest is in the cocoa industry’s interests, he said.

“The very heart of our business is at stake. If tomorrow we no longer have an ecosystem favourable to the raw material we’re trading, we no longer have access to this resource.”

MHO Mighty Earth senior director for Africa Julian Oram said the Nestle initiative was a valuable way of addressing deforestation.

However, “it’s important that companies such as Nestle don’t use agroforestry… as a way of avoiding changes to their core business practices: which is how they buy cocoa, including the prices they offer”, he told AFP.

“Sustainability programmes are no substitute for fair cocoa purchasing practices.”

Global conservationist group WWF is a sharp critic of what it calls “imported deforestation”.

It said Swiss consumption of eight major raw materials – including cocoa, coconuts, coffee and palm oil – occupies over twice the area of Switzerland’s own forests.

The NGO said 54 per cent of Switzerland’s cocoa imports come from countries where the risk of deforestation is either high or very high.

In mid-April, the European Parliament adopted a regulation banning the import of products such as cocoa, coffee, palm oil or rubber if they came from land deforested after December 2020.

The objective is to curb deforestation outside the European Union (EU), with the EU, according to the WWF, the second-biggest destroyer of tropical forests, after China. The NGO said the EU is responsible for 16 per cent of global deforestation.

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