Above: A man cuts cocoa pods on a cocoa farm in the village of Andou M’batto, in the region of Alepe in Ivory Coast on Sept. 21. Credit: Thierry Gouegnon for HuffPost
The endless global appetite for chocolate has bitter consequences in West Africa, especially in Ivory Coast and Ghana, where most of the world’s cocoa originates. The landscape in the region has been transformed, with expanses of forests razed to make way for cocoa bean plantations, which are eating up protected land and national parks and destroying once-thriving ecosystems.
Cocoa production, catering especially to a wolfish demand for candy in Europe and the U.S. (each American consumes about 9.5 pounds of chocolate a year; in Switzerland, 19.8 pounds) has led to the decimation of forests.
The effects have been devastating. Rainfall is down, temperatures have risen and biodiversity has dwindled in one of the most naturally rich forest habitats in the world, home to endangered animals including chimpanzees, elephants and pygmy hippos. Forests once loud with animal sounds are now graveyards. The soil, overused, has lost its fertility.
But there is a glimmer of hope for the region. Though globally deforestation is at terrifyingly high rates, with West Africa seeing some of the worst effects, Ivory Coast and Ghana seem to be rebounding, according to new data. Signs point to the concerted efforts of governments, nongovernmental organizations and multinational corporations to combat the forest loss driven by cocoa cultivation and to promote more sustainable — and more humane — systems of agriculture.
Ivory Coast, which supplies most of the world’s cocoa (40%) but makes only a fraction of the profit (5%), has been particularly hard hit by deforestation. In less than a century, the country has lost almost 85% of its forest cover ― an area about the size of Louisiana ― as poor communities settled in some of its protected areas, clearing trees to farm cocoa. By 2018, approximately 2.5...