Mapping Farms and Protecting Forests: DRAs and the Cocoa Industry

One of ETG | Beyond Bean’s key strategies in helping to facilitate sustainable cocoa ecosystems is protecting native forests. In order to effectively know where deforestation is a pronounced risk, we utilise a methodology known as a deforestation risk assessment.  

One of the acute dangers of chocolate production in West Africa is the continual threat of deforestation. Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire produce almost two-thirds of the world’s chocolate, but between 2002 and 2019, these countries lost 8% and 25% of their primary forests, respectively. In order to understand which areas are most vulnerable to deforestation, companies use Deforestation Risk Assessments (DRAs). 

DRAs are a methodology which allows companies to proactively measure deforestation risks in their supply chain. By applying a numerical score to past deforestation risk and future deforestation risk, we arrive at a combined deforestation risk score. 

This analysis not only helps to hold companies accountable to the communities and markets they serve, it also allows them  to take stock of existing assessment approaches in cocoa and other supply chains and to recommend concrete options for companies to pursue DRA individually or through collaboration with DFI signatories.  

A DRA is an assessment of both company’s past exposure to deforestation in their current sourcing areas, and exposure to future deforestation risk in their current and potential future sourcing areas. A focus on past, current, and future deforestation risks allows companies to effectively design suitable interventions. A range of different interventions may be appropriate including Reforestation, Community Based Forest Protection Schemes, Income Diversification schemes and Farmer Sensitisation. But these should be matched based on the type of deforestation and in consultation with the community.

Deforestation in a protected area in Côte d’Ivoire.

There are three areas of priority for DRAs. These are: 

  • Farms (most direct and recommended if available):
    • Where the complete farm boundary is available (polygon data), the area inside the polygon (no buffer)  
    • Where only the farm location is known (point data), a distance buffer representing the estimated farm area 
  • Cooperatives/collection points:
    • Distance buffer around location (point data) representing the estimated sourcing area  
  • Other Areas of Interest (AOI) such as larger sourcing regions:
    • Current sourcing areas could be defined by merging farm boundaries or farm and cooperative buffers to create a single large polygon representing a sourcing region 
    • Potential future sourcing regions could be defined as above using potential future cooperatives and farms, or by selecting other regions such as administrative boundaries of a sub-national jurisdiction or manually defining polygons of a particular AOI.  

There is a lack of readily available and easily comparable data map products. We understand that Rainforest Alliance is working on a natural forest map for certification compliance that could provide an ideal basis for company DRA.  

In the meantime, the best alternative option available to all companies is deforestation reports from Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and Global Forest Watch (GFW). These two datasets can publish quite different messaging. For example, in 2015, the FRA reported that global deforestation was decreasing, whereas GFW reported that deforestation remained high in the same year. The discrepancies are the result of different methodologies and aims. While Beyond Beans primarily uses GFW, the reports can serve to produce more holistic visions of global deforestation.   

The FAO publishes the Global Forest Resources Assessment (FRA) every five years. It is based on self-reported data from national governments, recorded by the FAO. The GFW is collected annually from satellite data.  

Both the FRA and GFW have their advantages and disadvantages. 

For example, as the FRA is based on self-reporting from governments, it can reveal data which is relevant at the local level about economic and political forces which are driving, suspending, or reversing deforestation. The GFW, on the other hand, offers more frequent updates measured from photographic satellite data.  

So how does ETG | Beyond Beans fit into this? Well, every time we get a new farmer, we have to map their farm. Someone goes with a phone to map the borders of the farm. This gives us the polygon mapping of the farm. We overlay the Farm Polygons against a mapping layer which contains the boundaries of all protected areas. We also add a 2 km buffer zone to protected areas.  If there’s any overlap with protected areas (including the buffer), then we consider that farm to be at risk of contributing to deforestation.  

In this image, you can see farms (white) where we have identified a risk of deforestation. The shaded area is protected forest, and the green area represents the buffer zone.

ETG | Beyond Beans assesses cooperatives, farms, or other Areas of Interest (AOI) according to deforestation risk assessed via polygon mapping.

Based on how farms score on these indicators, we have a few options. If deforestation is present in more than 1% of farmer land, we will attempt remediation. This usually includes offering sensitisation to farmers on deforestation and providing shade trees to reforest previously deforested areas. If this fails, we remove the farmer from the supply chain. This is only a last resort, however, as if you remove someone from the supply chain, it is harder to remediate, ultimately leading to worse outcomes. 

We cannot make meaningful progress without understanding where we are. Deforestation Risk Assessments allows ETG | Beyond Beans, in collaboration with the farmers with whom we work, to encourage farming best practices, protect at-risk landscapes, and create more sustainable chocolate supply chains. 

%d bloggers like this: