Resilience Dispatch #18: Cocoa in a climate newsletter?

Aug 1, 2021
Cocoa pods. Credit: Rodrigo Flores

In this edition

Cocoa in a climate newsletter?

We all got some ominous news this week: a major new IPCC report shows we’re almost certainly locked in to 1.5 degrees of global warming, and on track for worse without some very fast action. The assessment, approved by all 195 member countries, clearly shows that humans have created this situation, and that there is no turning back the clock to a pre-industrial climate. But the authors also say we still have a small window to minimize the damage.

One finding stood out for me: as report co-author Professor Paulo Artaxo Neto has put it, there is “no cheaper, easier, and faster way to reduce CO2 emissions than by reducing tropical deforestation.”

How do we do that? In this Resilience Dispatch, we focus on one commodity closely tied to tropical deforestation: cocoa. We often talk about the “big four” commodities when we mention the main drivers of deforestation around the world – timber, cattle, soy, and oil palm. But products like cocoa and coffee are also major forces.

A closer look at this one commodity, cocoa, can tell us a larger story about how to stop tropical deforestation and climate change. Cocoa highlights many of the difficulties of protecting tropical forests in the face of agricultural expansion. But cocoa also shows us some key solutions that can be adapted for other commodities.

First, the difficulties: Compared to the palm oil and timber sectors, awareness and engagement from companies on deforestation from cocoa production is still low. When you buy chocolate at the store, it is very hard to know where it came from, or whether it has contributed to deforestation and climate change. Much of the world’s cocoa production actually takes place on lands where forests have been illegally cut down. Finally, smallholders farmers make up the majority of cocoa production, making it difficult to distinguish by satellite when it is sustainably grown, and muddying efforts to track and verify supply chains.

But cocoa also is bought by consumers the world over – including you and me. This means that consumers in major markets like the US and Europe have a lot of leverage to demand sustainable and ethical production. They are beginning to do so. A global shift in the way we grow cocoa would have incredible benefits not only for climate and forests, but also for the smallholder farmers who grow it. In this sense, cocoa is in many ways a perfect candidate to take on deforestation.

Forest Trends works on cleaning up cocoa supply chains from multiple angles:

  • We advise companies and track voluntary corporate progress on cocoa supply chains through our Supply Change initiative, and make that information available to consumers like you. Mars, for example, has a target to source 100% from deforestation-free cocoa by 2025, plus goals to improve cocoa farmer incomes, eliminate child labor, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its cocoa supply chain.
  • On the ground, we partner with indigenous communities in Latin America to strengthen value chains for cocoa and other “forest-friendly” products. Communities capture and distribute more value from cocoa production within their communities, and the Amazon forest stays intact.
  • We work with governments and industry on regulatory approaches to keep forest products associated with illegal deforestation and human rights violations off consumer shelves. An example is forthcoming legislation in the US that would keep illegally produced cattle, soy, palm, pulp, cocoa, and rubber products from entering US markets.

The way forward is to lean into the power of collaboration and keep finding ways to work across communities, governments, and the private sector, including finance. That is how Forest Trends has always operated. Success is even sweeter when it’s shared with great partners and collaborators.

Be well,


Chocolate companies are changing to make cocoa ethical

The further down the supply chain you go, the murkier things get when it comes to spotting issues like child labor and deforestation. Here’s how some companies are making headway. [Keep reading]


How much cocoa is coming from illegally deforested lands?

Cocoa production is driving forest destruction in countries like Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, despite laws meant to protect forests. Do importers in the US and Europe have any leverage to stop it? [Keep reading]



Our partnership with Origens Brasil helps connect indigenous producers with buyers, and ensure supply chain traceability for Amazon products.

Most cocoa production around the world happens on small farms. In the Amazon, Forest Trends works with indigenous communities to build forest-friendly cocoa value chains – helping to improve livelihoods and protect forests.

We provide training and business assistance to producers in indigenous and rural communities. We also connect smallholder cocoa producers to buyers, product distribution channels, and investors interested in supporting sustainable enterprises.

In July 2021, our Communities and Territorial Governance Initiative hosted a training with the Surui Indigenous People in Brazil on techniques for cultivating and processing high quality cacao. At left: a live screenshot from the training.
Our newest partnership, with the gourmet company De Mendes Chocolates, support indigenous chocolate producers in the Amazon. We also partner with Original Beans to source sustainable cacao from indigenous territories, and with Origens Brasil, a platform connecting buyers and sellers to ensure traceability for Amazonian products.

Analysis: Trends in the Implementation of Ethical Supply Chains: A 2020 Snapshot of the Cocoa Sector

Over the past few decades, cocoa production has emerged as a driver of land use change, particularly in West Africa. In addition to its significant contributions to deforestation, cocoa production has also faced intense public scrutiny due to human rights violations, especially the use of child labor.

In a new technical report, Trends in the Implementation of Ethical Supply Chains: A 2020 Snapshot of the Cocoa SectorForest Trends’ Supply Change Initiative joined the Accountability Framework Initiative (AFi) to shed light on current trends in implementing best practice for achieving ethical supply chains across the cocoa sector. The report analyzes company sustainability commitments, production and procurement policies, and progress reporting against common approaches for pursuing ethical supply chains as outlined in the Accountability Framework.