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Promoting Deforestation-Free Cocoa In The Tai-Grebo-Sapo Landscape Of The Southeast Of Liberia

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BY Kolleh Alusine Bangura (PH.D.)

In Liberia the Southeast and the Northwestern regions of the country remain forested with most areas covered by tropical rainforest canopies, but, these forests are threatened by illegal gold mining and the encroachment of subsistence agriculture from farmers who have no alternative means of income generation. In the Southeastern counties of Grand Gedeh and River Gee, in the administrative Districts of Glarro, Glio – Twarbo, and Konobo 96,000 hectares of primary forest land is protected and community degraded lands are being restored through cocoa and other tree crops-based agroforestry systems with the support of GIZ/EU, the Government of Liberia and other partners (Wild Chimpanzee Foundation) through the Tai, Grebo – Krahn and Sapo landscape link project (TGS – Link)

The TGS – Link project area extends from the western border of Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire across the adjacent Grebo Forest to Sapo National Park in Liberia and contains the largest remaining rainforest in West Africa. Most of the forested areas have protected status. They are uniquely biodiverse and home to many endemic species. The environs of the protected areas are populated, used for agriculture, and still home to scattered local community forests (Vincent Beligne, 2020). The Grebo-Krahn National Park for instance is surrounded by 36 towns and villages (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Towns and Villages around the Grebo-Krahn National Park[1]

However, efforts to preserve this biodiversity are threatened by insufficient organisational capacity and human resources, weak governmental structures, rapid population growth, and the extraction of raw materials, such as uncontrolled gold mining. These factors also make it harder to maintain connectivity between protected areas. To date, neither state institutions nor local actors have worked together to link the forest ecosystems in the Taï-Grebo-Sapo border region.

Map 5: The TGS Forest Complex[2].

TGS – Link Project and the Private Sector (Theobroma Liberia Inc.) are working in partnership with farmers to produce sustainable cocoa through agroforestry systems in community lands while protecting the biologically diverse Grabo – Krahn National Park and the Sapo National Park. It’s a ‘payment for performance’ model: farmers receive financing for farming inputs on the condition that they won’t deforest further, will restore degraded land in the buffer zone with cocoa-based agroforestry systems, and that a share of revenues from cocoa sales will go to investors through fair business relationships.

The Emissions Reductions generated by the Project hope to be commercialised by the Liberian Government and the communities for fostering the protection of both protected areas and more agroforestry investments in the buffer zones to stabilise land use in the long term.

The trajectory of deforestation due to cocoa production has remained upward primarily because of rising demand for chocolate, decreasing production capacity from aging cocoa trees, lack of good agricultural practices, and the shrinking suitable land area due to climate change and other land degradation forces. These factors create further incentives to convert forests to farmlands for cocoa, which threatens remaining forested and protected areas[3].

While cocoa production is historically a product of Latin America, it has now concentrated in West Africa where the deforestation from cocoa is most pronounced. Global production relies almost entirely on 5 – 6 million smallholders, and beyond the smallholder production level, the cocoa value chain is highly concentrated among several traders, grinders, and chocolate producers. While deforestation occurs at the smallholder level, it is the companies, governments, and NGOs that need to take action due to the limited technical and economic capacity of smallholders to enact the necessary reforms on their own. In Liberia, the GIZ and EU partners are facilitating the work of Theobroma and Solidaridad (Both cacao commodity traders) to take action in reducing or eliminating deforestation from the cacao they buy from communities in Nimba, River Gee, and Grand Gedeh Counties.

The TGS Project is promoting Certification schemes to address environmental and socioeconomic issues related to cocoa, including biodiversity loss and forest conversion. This article examines the main scheme:  Staff Training and Traceability application system. The deforestation-related requirements for these certification processes contain important nuances that determine the effectiveness and level of forest protection required by each standard taught. Standard-specific details for forest protection are needed to be part of the process. Strong standards in terms of forest protection are a prerequisite to the process of delivering the intended outcomes, with forest definition extending to all-natural forests protecting primary and secondary forests.

Limitations: Even if the certification schemes all have strong forest protection they will still contain limitations. Certification has a limited impact on addressing the livelihood issue as farmers remain in poverty, the premiums remain unrealistically low, and all proposed standards lack equivalent criteria for forest protection which creates sourcing complications for companies that use certified cocoa purchases as their strategy to reduce deforestation. The continued deforestation for cocoa is not sustainable for the industry in a changing climate, and companies need to take some of the first steps to improve the social and environmental footprint of their operations.

Despite their limitations, companies could utilise certification schemes that seek to promote responsible practices, while TGS – Link Project is relying on their community programs, in combination with certification through the Public-Private Partnership (PPP), to support climate-smart practices of smallholder farmers.

The training of farmers around avoiding deforestation continues in Glarro District and will commence in Konobo and Gio Thabo districts in 2021. TGS Project in collaboration with the private sector frames this intervention around productivity through intensification and cocoa tree rehabilitation or replanting. Also, the partnering companies plan to increase forest trees-on-farm at scale, promote agroforestry systems, and push for the preservation of remaining forests. The most critical issues that companies currently identified in addressing deforestation in cocoa production included: land tenure, agricultural intensification, deforestation awareness in local populations, land grabbing, and revenue diversification.

Recommendations: For the vision to be realised the prerequisite actions are summed up in several overarching principles and key strategies that serve as the cornerstones for a deforestation-free cocoa sector. The first principle is the protection of all remaining natural primary and secondary forests such as the Tai, Grebo Krahn, and Sapo National Parks. Also, legality (land formalisation) and transparency could be a minimum requirement for all sustainability initiatives. Furthermore, the zero-deforestation goal could be integrated into long-term public and private sector strategies, and sustainability programs could operate at scale through jurisdictional or landscape approaches including parallel livelihood enhancement for rural communities.

The key strategies for operationalising zero-deforestation cocoa include public-private cooperation whereby collective transformation is more efficiently achieved through increased strategic alignment. Sustainable finance is also necessary and the collective efforts by financial institutions, producer and consumer county governments, and supply chain companies will be required to develop effective financial mechanisms that work for local producers to restore or replant their cocoa farms to increase productivity without clearing forests. There needs to be an emphasis on cocoa farm restoration and regeneration. Then by supporting sustainable intensification backed by strong safeguards these programs could become beneficiaries of climate finance and contribute emission reductions to Nationally Determined Contributions. In addition, more impact may be possible if new research and data collection are aligned with zero-deforestation goals. Finally, the World Cocoa Foundation program CocoaAction could explicitly address the issue of deforestation, and use its platform to create zero-deforestation criteria alignment amongst the certification and company programs. These principles and strategies can be used to draft a global action agenda to end deforestation in cocoa, but the action in priority countries in West Africa should be fast-tracked now[4]. The next step in developing an action framework would be to specify what type of preventative and/or mitigation activities are appropriate for each region to ensure a sustainable future in cocoa landscapes.

About the Author: Dr. Kolleh Alusine Bangura supports the Tai-Grebo-Sapo Landscape Linking Project (TGS) as Lead Technical Advisor for the Liberian Side

[1] Map Produced by Wild Chimpanzee Foundation

[2] (Source:[2] Earthworm, 2019. The satellite images interpretation support mission for Land Cover Mapping in the New Grebo-Krahn National Park and its periphery)

[3] World Bank Group,  2017 Authors: Alan Kroeger Haseebullah Bakhtary Franziska Haupt Charlotte Streck  Eliminating Deforestation from the Cocoa Supply Chain

[4] CCO, International Cocoa Organization (2016). Quarterly Bulletin of Cocoa Statistics, Vol. XLII, No. 3, Cocoa year 2015/16. https://www.icco.org/about-us/international-cocoa-agreements/cat_view/30-relateddocuments/46-statistics-production.html

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