JOHANNESBURG, April 22 — Farmers are clearing forests in Liberia to create cocoa plantations and are trafficking the beans into neighbouring Ivory Coast, undermining European efforts to curb deforestation, research by a conservation group showed today.

A law approved by the European Union and set to come into force at the end of this year aims to prevent agricultural commodities linked to deforestation around to world from entering the European market.

The regulation also covers products such as coffee, beef, and soy, but cocoa is seen as an early test of the law that requires companies to demonstrate their supply chains do not contribute to the destruction of forests.

As efforts have focused on tracing supply chains in leading cocoa exporting countries, Ivorian forest conservation group IDEF found that farmers from Ivory Coast are moving across the border into Liberia in search of land.

Advertisement

“It’s a flow that’s accelerating, and it will continue to accelerate,” Bakary Traore, IDEF’s executive director and the main author of the research, told Reuters.

Unless the exodus of cocoa farmers from Ivory Coast into Liberia is checked, it risks fueling a repeat of the widespread cocoa-driven clearances that have all but wiped out Ivorian forest cover, Traore said.

Long the world’s leading producer, Ivory Coast’s cocoa sector faces challenges, including climate change, ageing tree stocks and disease that risk sending production into long-term decline.

Advertisement

Trafficked cocoa

In 2022 alone, Liberia lost around 150,000 hectares of natural forest, according to conservation organisation Global Forest Watch.

Liberia’s Forestry Development Authority told Reuters that it was aware of the influx of cocoa farmers from Ivory Coast over the last three years and was preparing to take action.

The Coffee and Cocoa Council - Ivory Coast’s cocoa regulatory body - and the European Commission did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

IDEF carried out its research over a period of six months in a group of villages that satellite images showed were a hot spot for deforestation in Liberia. But Traore said the phenomenon was commonplace along much of the border between the two West African nations.

IDEF found that migrant farmers began planting cocoa on land leased from Liberian villagers in 2018.

While some plantations are in the development phase, the researchers found others were already producing cocoa.

Despite company assertions that they are able to trace the origins of their supplies, that Liberian-grown cocoa is illegally trafficked back into Ivory Coast and mixed in with Ivorian supplies.

“The controls on the ground, in reality, are almost non-existent,” Traore said. “Without robust oversight, that cocoa will make it into the European market.” — Reuters