Ivory Coast deforestation rate rises as EU green imports law looms

A farmer prepares to collect a cocoa pod at a cocoa farm in Alepe, Ivory Coast.

LONDON — Deforestation in top cocoa producer Ivory Coast increased last year after declining for several years, a major report has found, raising questions about how the country will comply with a new EU law preventing commodity imports linked to forest loss.

The report was published by the Cocoa and Forests Initiative (CFI), a UN-backed partnership launched in 2017, when Ivory Coast, No. 2 cocoa grower Ghana and more than 30 major cocoa and chocolate companies signed onto it at COP 23, in Germany. Since 2019, the annual progress report published by the CFI has found consistent declines in rates of forest loss in the Ivory Coast.

Last year, however, the trend reversed, with 62,000 hectares of forest lost after 26,000 hectares in 2021. The report highlights the challenges of ending deforestation – the second leading cause of climate change after the burning of fossil fuels. It did not give reasons for the resurgence in deforestation rates, saying they are still being studied.

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Ivory Coast’s Ministry of Water and Forests had no immediate comment on the deforestation rate increase. It is ramping up efforts to comply with the EU’s new deforestation law, which comes into effect at the end of 2024. Companies importing commodities like coffee, cocoa, beef, soy, rubber and palm oil – and related products – into the EU, will have to prove their goods are not contributing to deforestation anywhere in the world or risk hefty fines.

“The CFI is a strong partnership … but we are not where we need to be,” Daan Wensing, chief executive of the non-profit IDH – a co-signatory of the CFI – said in a statement. “Deforestation in West Africa continues to increase: this trend needs to be reversed. All actors need to step-up, and (put) plans into action.”
Cocoa accounts for about 15% of Ivory Coast’s GDP and more than 40% of its export earnings. The EU is its biggest cocoa buyer, meaning it would be costly for Abidjan to lose access to even a small portion of this market due to the new law.

However, of the roughly 2 million tonnes of cocoa the West African country produces each year, between 20-30% is grown illegally in protected forests by an estimated 1.3 million people, many of them children. Ivory Coast, a developing, cash-stripped nation that has lost more than 85% of its forests since 1960, mostly due to cocoa, is struggling to provide alternate livelihoods for these people outside of the forests.

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