Cocoa – it better be sustainable

Published : 08/17/2017

Cocoa – it better be sustainable

COCOA is probably the oldest luxury food in the history of mankind. The tropical fruit has beguiled our senses with its exquisite taste and stimulating effect for more than 3000 years and continues to do so today. Serving as a commodity for the production of chocolate, cocoa is the most important resource for today’s sugar and confectionary industry. A success story of unparalleled performance, keeping in mind that the bitterly tasting, thick liquid was served as a sacred natural remedy only on special occasions by the ancient Olmec people and later by the Maya and Aztecs before it began its walk of fame into global supermarkets. But as is the case with so many of today’s commodities, once tapped by global multinationals the doors swing open for foreign investment, monocultures and all its unpleasant side products including large scale environmental degradation and ruthless, social exploitation. Though, cocoa’s booming success has reached an extent that threatens the very own survival of the industry itself. By now, it is a well-known fact that our planet is at the brink of an environmental collapse. But the risk that even renewable commodities such as cocoa will not be able to cope with their expected future demand, which is further challenged by progressing climate change, is highly worrisome and is reaching unprecedented dimensions. Some even speak of a chocolate crisis, based on the prospect that if current trends continue, demand will exceed supply by 1 million tonnes by 2020, which would translate into a supply gap of 20 to 25%. Whereas global consumption was 1 million tonnes in 1960, cocoa demand has skyrocketed ever since reaching a current yearly consumption of 4 million tonnes – and is expected to reach 5 million tonnes until 2020. In order to produce an additional 1 million tonnes, at least one million additional hectares of land need to be made available, which will only fuel further deforestation rates. Newly industrializing nations are primarily responsible for the rising demand in cocoa – first and foremost China, whose newly emerging middle class has recently discovered its new appetite for chocolate. In addition, Europe increasingly favours dark chocolate with a cocoa share of at least 70% and more. All of this makes chocolate manufacturers predict that we will be hit by a cocoa deficit of one million tonnes by 2020.On the positive side, this would raise the prices for the highly sought-after commodity, which were halved by the end of the last century. In Ghana, a nation, whose economic force is almost entirely build on the export of cocoa, small holder cocoa farmers earn as little as 50 cents per day. In order to lift people out of absolute poverty, they would have to earn four times as much. It is a widely recognized fact that cocoa farming is in many cases feeding into child labour, poverty, land grabbing and the destruction of rainforests in the countries of cultivation.

Germany, with a share of over 10% of the worldwide cocoa harvest, holds a considerable responsibility in the value chain of cocoa. If we want to maintain the livelihoods of future generations, it is fundamentally important to adapt socially responsible and environmentally suitable mechanisms of dealing with our natural resources. Last but not least if we want to meet the worldwide increasing demand in future. Germany has managed to increase its share of sustainably produced cocoa in confectionary to 45% in 2016 (compared to only 3% as of 2011), and is determined to reach 70% in 2025.

So what does sustainably produced cocoa actually mean? Here the most important seals of quality:

Fairtrade: The fairtrade seal works to improve social conditions, prohibit child labour as well as regulate the application of certain pesticides. It is based on a partnership between producers and consumers by providing farmers with better deals and improved terms of trade in order to allow their participation on global markets. It includes setting minimum prices for farmers as a guarantee for market access. In 2015 fairtrade launched “Fairtrade Cocoa” – a new seal specifically fine-tuned to the cocoa sector.

Rainforest Alliance: Rainforest Alliance’s mission is to conserve biodiversity, put an end to deforestation and ensure sustainable livelihoods. For example, it promotes the use of native plants instead of growing hybrids as well as regulating the use of pesticides. The seal certifies a “fair” share of ingredients of over 90%.

UTZ: The UTZ standard is one that promotes sustainable cocoa production by ensuring an open and transparent market that empowers consumers in their food choices (think “from field to bar”). This includes social as well as environmental concerns such as a moderate use of pesticides, the abolishment of child labour etc. In order to be certified a “fair” share of 90% is required.

What all these labels and seals are however criticized for, is the commonly applied “green washing”, where an amount of “fair” traded cocoa is being mixed with conventionally sourced products. This raises the consumer’s dilemma of being fooled into buying a seemingly fair product, which in reality is a cocktail of all sorts of traceable and untraceable ingredients. One exception is the GEPA certification, which aims to include a 100% of fair ingredients.

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