Improving traceability in a way that benefits cocoa farmers in the Ivory Coast is a must if any of the remaining tropical forests are to be saved. With this mission in mind, Brad Mulley, Founder and CEO of Gaiachain, travelled to visit some of the smallholders who could pioneer a new approach to bottom-up supply chain change.
Together with Nitidae, an NGO specialising in environmental preservation and sustainable development in rural communities, Brad met with a number of organic cocoa producers in the la Mé region of Southern Ivory Coast where sustainable cocoa production techniques are being trialled together with forest preservation efforts in a REDD+ pilot area. Our mission was to test the first version of a blockchain-based tool for tracking their products through the supply chain, giving them a fairer deal and creating the incentive for other farmers to follow suit, in order to combat deforestation in the world’s chocolate capital.
Decimated by deforestation
Deforestation has decimated the forests of the Ivory Coast, a country that just fifty years ago was one of the richest countries for biodiversity in Africa, home to thousands of endemic species. Since 1960, the percentage of tropical forests has dwindled from around 25% to just 4%, stripping much of the nutrients and valuable habitats with it. And chocolate is largely to blame.
The Ivory Coast is the world’s largest producer of cocoa, the raw product for chocolate, supplier globally recognised brands including Nestlé, Cargill, Mars, and Mondelez, and it is this global thirst for cocoa beans that has driven farmers to deforest parts of their land to plant and harvest cocoa.
In a country where over 60% of the rural population live below the poverty line, it is no surprise that many turn their hand to cocoa farming. The most fertile ground can be found in forested areas, leading many to deforest or degrade patches of forest slowly in order to increase cocoa production. Over time, as the lack of forest leads to nutrient loss, the soil becomes less fertile and yields reduce, leading to a constant quest for new plots of land.
Deforestation for cocoa is even rife in the protected areas of forest, where officials choose to turn a blind eye for personal gain.
Company commitments yield sparse results
Many chocolate companies acknowledge the problems associated with deforestation with chocolate, and in 2017 the 12 largest producers of cocoa committed to end deforestation and forest degradation in the cocoa supply chain. Yet voluntary commitments remain ineffective and deforestation remains rife across the Ivory Coast, due in large parts to sparse, unreliable, and untraceable data on supply chains making it difficult for companies to distinguish ‘good’ from ‘bad’ cocoa.
Even if farmers are producing legally grown cocoa with climate-smart agricultural practices, there is no incentive for traders to buy this premium product, since they are unable to differentiate them properly on the market, and the problem perpetuates itself. This is where Gaiachain steps in.
Smallholders in the spotlight
We are developing a system that puts the emphasis back on the farmers. With a simple app, farmers will be able to register the details of their farm and practices, and allow their products to be traced throughout the supply chain using a digital, fraud-resistant and decentralised approach. In the future, farmers will be able to sell their data to companies with zero-deforestation commitments through our application. This marketplace, based on blockchain technologies, will incentivise both climate-smart agriculture and data provision.
With low-tech solutions specifically designed for off-grid, rural locations, we aim to provide smallholders with the tools they need to differentiate their products from illegally or unsustainably sourced cocoa products that are still flooding the market, and driving deforestation.
Capabilities for satellite imagery as well as unique identification will enable the farmers to digitally prove the sustainable credentials of their practices, with the option to integrate further points of evidence. The richer the data and more transparent the chain, the more confidence traders, manufacturers, and ultimately consumers can have that the chocolate they sell, make, or buy, comes from a sustainable source.
We are continuing to test and develop our ideas and services to ultimately offer a free and easy-to-use service for smallholders to allow them to differentiate sustainably produced commodities and shifting supply chain dynamics for the benefit of forest and farmer. If you are interested to hear more about Gaiachain or our smallholder approach to corporate zero-deforestation ambitions, don’t hesitate to contact Brad at firstname.lastname@example.org