This Study attempts to assess the risks that cocoa cultivation poses to biodiversity, not only through deforestation, but also at the level of crop plots. The main sustainability initiatives in the sector are reviewed and assessed against their theory of change.

Key messages

  • The cocoa/chocolate value chain is characterised by a high concentration of actors from the processing sector. The division by 4 of the number of grinding plants in Europe in recent decades, has led to a low adaptability of the sector to the constraints of sustainable production, and to the maintenance of structural overproduction of cocoa at the global level.
  • The biodiversity within a cocoa plot is not comparable with the biodiversity of a natural forest. Cultivating cocoa in agroforestry does not, therefore, compensate for deforestation.
  • In West Africa, agroforestry systems are generally quite poor and close to monoculture. Thus, it is necessary to go through a phase of restoration of agricultural ecosystems.
  • The labels "organic agriculture" and "fair trade" present some interesting results, but suffer from an excessive dependence on world cocoa prices. In a global overproduction context, they do not always represent a profitable alternative to conventional agriculture. Moreover, their specifications are not sufficiently precise on the issue of combating deforestation.
  • The Rainforest Alliance label refers to indicators that are comprehensive enough to ensure biodiversity protection, but suffers from very incomplete implementation, combined with controls that focus more on productivity and quality than on environmental criteria.
  • Voluntary commitments by companies are almost exclusively based on improving productivity. However, many studies show that agricultural intensification is not very effective in protecting biodiversity. The risk of deforestation therefore remains strongly associated with a potential shift from production areas to countries with significant forest cover.
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