The World’s Hunger for Chocolate Comes at a Cost
You love chocolate. We love chocolate. Everybody loves chocolate! And unfortunately, that’s the problem.
Global hunger for this sweetest of ingredients seems to know no limit. In response, the chocolate industry is increasing production, with devastating consequences for people and the planet. Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s largest producer of cocoa, has lost around 80% of its forests over the past 50 years—and the global demand for chocolate is largely to blame.
This is a huge problem. Here are the details and what we’re doing about it.
The Impact on the Planet
Cocoa can only be grown in the tropics, in places like Côte d’Ivoire. The tropics are also home to rainforests, which contain about 50% of earth’s total plant and animal species and are crucial in our fight against climate change.
Tropical rainforests are among the planet’s most ecologically valuable resources. Why?
- They absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, stabilizing the planet’s climate and providing the air we need to breathe.
They are home to more than 30 million species of plants and animals, including untold thousands that haven’t even been discovered yet.
More than 25% of modern medicines have their origins in rainforests! Who knows what life-changing and life-saving treatments remain to be found?
But due to the growing global demand for chocolate, farmers are under enormous pressure to produce more cocoa. That’s what has led to the devastating deforestation we’re seeing in Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere.
The Impact on People
Most cocoa farmers make only about $0.78/day on their crops—less than the price of a single Hershey’s kiss. The chocolate industry traps farmers and their communities in a cycle of poverty, which understandably makes farmers desperate to do whatever they can to provide for their families.
Too often this means tearing down precious tropical forests to plant cocoa trees—depleting the soil, decimating biodiversity, and pushing farmers into a dangerous dependence on just one crop. If anything goes wrong, they risk losing everything.
Extreme poverty has also led to the illegal use of child labor and even slavery on cocoa farms. In Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana (its neighbor, and the world’s second-largest producer of cocoa) alone, the global demand for chocolate and exploitation from the chocolate industry are driving the enslavement of 30,000 people and another 1.56 million cases of child labor.
Trying to Stop Deforestation
One bit of welcome news is that Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana (which has lost around 94% of its own forests since the 1960s) have worked together over the past few years on initiatives that actually led to a significant decline in forest loss.
But challenges persist. Côte d’Ivoire has estimated that 1.3 million people are living illegally in protected forests, and most of them are farming cocoa. About 40% of the cocoa Côte d’Ivoire produces each year is grown illegally.
Being Part of the Solution
We think it’s important to be 100% clear: Farmers are not cutting down the rainforest because they want to. They are struggling (and, more often than not, failing) to rise out of poverty. The chocolate industry makes that all but impossible.
As an ice cream company that features chocolate in many of our flavors, Ben & Jerry’s recognizes that we have an important role to play in working for a solution that benefits farmers and helps the planet.
What Ben & Jerry's Is Doing to Help
We established relationships with cocoa cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire long ago through Fairtrade International, ensuring small-scale farmers earn a fair price for their cocoa. We are now working with those cooperatives to plant 189,000 trees over the next 20 years.
These specially chosen trees will:
- Remove 140,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
Provide shade and create beneficial microclimates
Aid in water retention
Provide food and additional income (many of them are fruit trees) to farmers
Help alleviate poverty in farming communities
Cocoa is an adaptable plant. It doesn’t have to be grown in monoculture—in fact, it’s been shown that growing cocoa trees among a variety of other trees and crops can be good for cocoa and also help promote biodiversity and support healthy ecosystems. This approach, called agroforestry, also benefits farmers and their communities by diversifying crops, increasing climate resilience, and providing more income.
Let’s Make Our Love for Chocolate a Force for Good
The worldwide passion for chocolate has created serious problems in places like Cote d’Ivoire. It’s up to governments and businesses to find solutions.
We think that projects and initiatives that support farmers and benefit their lives and livelihoods and create hope for the future of their communities can help.
Join us on our journey to transform our love for chocolate into a force for good. Want one simple way to help? Make sure that the chocolate you buy is Fairtrade Certified! And check out the Chocolate Scorecard to see how your favorite brands measure up.
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