Colombia has committed to reduce, with a goal to fully eliminate, deforestation within its cocoa industry by 2020 as part of joining a global partnership devoted to improving sustainability in the production process across the world.
In doing so, Colombia became the first Latin American nation to join the Cocoa and Forest Initiative, which was formed in 2017 and includes pledges to end deforestation in the sector by the governments of large cocoa-producing countries, including Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, and top companies, such as Hershey, Nestle, Mars, and Godiva.
A cocoa plant grows in central Colombia, a country that the government hopes can increase its sustainable production of the crop in the coming years. (Photo credit: Jared Wade)
Compared to the African leaders, Colombia does not produce a massive volume of cocoa, which is known as “cocao” and is the base ingredient used to make chocolate. But the Andean nation’s crop is known for its high quality, particularly beans with “fino de aroma” characteristics.
In addition to the government of Colombia, the country’s National Cocoa Federation and two leading cocoa producers, Casa Luker and Compañía Nacional de Chocolates, have also pledge to eliminated deforestation within the industry supply chain.
The government has been increasingly pushing for rural farmers to grow cocoa rather than coca, the leaf that is broken down to produce cocaine. While the incoming administration of President Elect Iván Duque is expected to take a more hardline strategy of eradication, through aerial fumigation and other means, the crop substitution plan has been a key component of outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos’ fight against coca.
Meanwhile, deforestation has been on the rise in Colombia in recent years following the peace accord reached in late 2016 between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla faction. As some 7,000 rebels demobilized and handed over their weapons, the rural areas they formerly controlled opened up and more trees are being cut down as other interests have begun to occupy these spaces.
The World Cocoa Foundation (WCF), which helped lead the effort to launch the Cocoa and Forest Initiative, noted that there was a 46% increase in the “tree cover loss” in the country in 2017 compared to the prior year. The overall volume of deforestation was about twice the average annual figure seen from 2001 through 2015, according to Global Forest Watch and the National Meteorological Institute (IDEAM).
Though “cocoa has not been a significant driver of deforestation in Colombia” thus far, stated the WCF, this “initiative is intended to ensure that this continues.”
Juan Guillermo Zuluaga, Colombia’s minister of agriculture and rural development, hopes that this pledge will lead to more growth in an industry that he says has potential to increase rural employment and restore degraded land.
“In a market characterized by a growing interest in zero-deforestation cocoa, with a positive story to tell about forests and peace, we hope Colombia’s signing up to the Cocoa and Forests Initiative will encourage greater interest and investment,” said Zuluaga.