Nestlé is launching the second phase of a project to combat deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire in the face of criticism of the damage caused by cocoa cultivation, this time involving the Swiss Ministry of Economic Affairs and trading companies.
The Swiss food giant, owner of KitKat chocolate bars, had launched this project to protect and reforest the Cavally forest in 2020 with the Ivorian government and the Earthworm Foundation, whose aim is to support companies in sustainable forest management.
Located in the west of the country, this 67,000-hectare classified forest is a biodiversity reserve, but is threatened by deforestation linked to the cocoa industry and illegal gold mining.
For its second phase, this project has been extended to include the Swiss Cocoasource and French Touton trading companies. Based in Bordeaux, this company specializes in the trade of cocoa, coffee, vanilla and spices, and wanted to join the initiative “because the first phase worked”, Joseph Larosse, its deputy managing director, told AFP, demonstrating that “collective effort makes it possible to protect the forest”.
Restoring the forest is in the interests of the cocoa industry, he insisted. “It’s the very heart of our business that’s at stake. If tomorrow we no longer have an ecosystem favorable to the raw material we are trading in, we will no longer have access to this resource”, he asserted.
At a press briefing, Nestlé gave an update on the first phase of the project, assuring that it had enabled “a massive and rapid reduction in deforestation”, contributed to “the natural regeneration of 7,000 hectares” and “the reforestation of nearly 1,500 hectares”.
The project has a budget of 4 million Swiss francs (equivalent in euros).
Côte d’Ivoire, which had 16 million hectares of forest in the 1960s, has seen the area shrink to two million hectares, according to official figures, mainly due to the development of cocoa plantations, of which the country is the world’s leading producer, with 40% of the market.
– Imported deforestation –
In Switzerland, the NGO WWF is highly critical of “imported deforestation”, pointing out that eight key raw materials for the Swiss food industry (including cocoa, coconut, coffee and palm oil) alone account for almost twice the area of the Alpine country’s forests.
According to the NGO, 54% of cocoa imports into Switzerland come from countries where the risk of deforestation is high or very high.
In mid-April, the European Parliament adopted by a very large majority a regulation banning the import into the European Union (EU) of products such as cocoa, coffee, palm oil or rubber if they originate from deforested land after December 2020. The aim is to halt the disappearance of forests on the other side of the world, since the European Union is, according to WWF, the second biggest destroyer of tropical forests behind China. According to the NGO, the EU is responsible for 16% of global deforestation.
In addition to trading companies, the Swiss Ministry of Economic Affairs has also joined the project, with its representative, Monica Rubiolo, explaining at the press conference that Switzerland saw an opportunity to contribute to improving supply chains as the country occupies “an important commercial position” in cocoa processing.
Switzerland’s chocolate giant Nestlé alone is expected to generate sales of CHF 8.1 billion in confectionery in 2022.
For the time being, however, Switzerland has yet to follow the European Union’s lead in terms of legislation, much to the regret of Romain Devèze, raw materials expert for the Swiss branch of the WWF.
“It would be nice if we didn’t have to wait ten years for Switzerland to align itself with European regulations”, he said in an interview with AFP.