One of the worlds top three food corporations, Cargill, announced a plan to reduce deforestation caused by their cocoa farmers. The plan, Protect our Planet, promises 100 percent traceability of cocoa beans in Cote d’Ivoire by 2020 and zero clearing of forested land for plantations in both Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. The plan also covers Brazil, Indonesia and Cameroon and includes a wide scale mapping project that identifies the exact size and location of every small farm.
Cargill has already mapped 90,000 farms and conducted risk assessments for over 2.3 million hectares. The mapping aims to improve traceability, transparency and accountability. Through GPS technology, Cargill can track farmers’ tree cover, cultivation methods, fertilizers, boundaries and can therefore refuse beans from farmers who spread into forested or protected lands. An improved barcode and electronic payment system, combined with finance training for farmers, means that beans can be traced back to farmers and ensures they are compensated right away.
Deforestation is largely due to increasing demand for chocolate combined with poverty, which forces farmers to exploit their land for increase production, such as using harmful chemical fertilizers. When old trees become less productive and land is degraded, farmers often seek new land and may clear forested areas.
“Global production relies almost entirely on five to six million smallholders,” a study on cocoa-related deforestation reports. “While the deforestation occurs at the smallholder level, it is the companies, governments, and NGOs that need to take action due to the limited technical and economic capacity of smallholders to enact the necessary reforms on their own.”
Many small farmers lack government-recognized land rights, which could impact their access once all farms are officially monitored and mapped. Despite investments in building community awareness about climate-smart agriculture, when farmers exhaust cocoa production on their land, will this plan limit their individual growth and livelihoods while Cargill still has the option to move on to farmers with more productive land?
When Cargill’s emissions are calculated in combination with the other four largest food corporations, their carbon footprint is larger than BP, Exxon Mobile or Shell. Though serious action on deforestation by major corporations is overdue and paramount to making an impact of scale, it remains to be seen how much this sustainability plan will impact small farmers, while Cargill’s unrivaled power and polluting capacity remain unchecked.
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