Deforestation Regulation: Ivorian farmers' low income from cocoa is a human rights issue

21 November 2022

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Deforestation Regulation: Ivorian farmers' low income from cocoa is a human rights issue

The low income that Ivorian farmers earn producing cocoa is a human rights issue which the EU’s deforestation regulation must address, says Bakary Traoré.

Côte d'Ivoire is the world’s biggest cocoa producer, and around 40 per cent of it is destined for the European Union (EU).

As the single biggest exporter of our cocoa, the EU’s attempt to purge deforestation from its supply chains through its Regulation on deforestation-free supply chains will therefore have huge consequences for Côte d'Ivoire. Its impacts will reverberate through our economy, our forests, and the lives of our citizens, particularly the one-fifth of our population who cocoa provides an income for, including the smallholders who are the industry’s backbone.

My organisation, Initiatives for Community Development and Forest Conservation (IDEF), has been working to reduce agriculture’s impact on forests since 2009 - including by collaborating with communities on agroforestry projects that restore areas degraded by cocoa production. Thus the significance of the EU’s draft Regulation was strikingly clear. 

Following the launch of the political dialogue between the EU and cocoa-producing countries in January 2021, we set up a working group on transparency in the cocoa sector, and began working closely with the NGO INADES-Formation, who initiated the Ivorian platform for sustainable cocoa (la Plateforme Ivoirienne pour le cacao durable). Through this platform, we’re working with nearly 100 smallholder co-operatives representing nearly 200,000 smallholder producers in Côte d’Ivoire. One of our objectives is to ensure they are strongly involved in the work related to the EU Regulation and that their voice is heard.

Overall we welcome the initiative, and we have expressed this in numerous position notes and public communications. Yet we also have a number of specific concerns, based on careful analysis and discussions with smallholders who will be directly impacted.

Unresolved issues

In our view, the following issues or questions need resolving or answering:

First, will risk benchmarking  be done on a national scale, or at sub-national levels as well? How will it address the risks of production leakage on both sides of the border?

Second, we need to set up a robust monitoring system, or at least a surveillance control system for the competent authorities, so that other countries do not cheat the Regulation. If we put in place a Regulation that says that plantations created after a specific date cannot export to the EU, then there must be a sufficiently strong means of checking this. One solution could be to work with the civil society organisations that have set up independent monitoring systems in the various countries, particularly in Côte d'Ivoire. They can go out into the field and collect data both on the basis of satellite data and through a human presence.

Third, how will the Regulation take small producers’ incomes into account? This is a big challenge for us because many small producers do not live, they survive. We have to ensure the Regulation includes not only deforestation-free requirements, but also obligations on companies to pay smallholders an adequate price.

Fourth, how will farmers’ cooperatives internal governance be supported? In Côte d'Ivoire, the system is liberalised, and it is the cooperatives that buy and sell. It doesn't work like that everywhere: in Ghana, for example, the state buys and sells all the cocoa. The Ivorian system is driving corruption and poor governance, and needs to be better-regulated if cocoa is to meet the new EU regulatory requirements.

Finally, transparency and access to information will also help determine the Regulation’s success.  

In Côte d'Ivoire, the cocoa sector is regulated by the Conseil du Café-Cacao (the CCC). Civil society intends to work closely with them to achieve common goals such as improving farmer income, and involving stakeholders in decision-making.

Ultimately, we want to 'regulate the market' so that farmers can make a better living from their production. Farmers are not asking for charity, just to make a living from their work and their production. The best way to make cocoa sustainable is to ensure companies pay a fair price for cocoa. The European Parliament’s position on the Regulation included language requiring companies to support their suppliers with compliance, including ensuring they receive adequate remuneration. We think this is a promising approach. This language must be supported and appear in the final Regulation. Delivering farmers an adequate standard of living is a question of social justice, but more importantly, it’s guaranteed by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

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