Close-up image of a hand holding a cocoa pod that has been broken open to reveal the interior.
A farmer holding a cocoa pod.

Going Beyond Certification: Lessons from Cocoa Certification in Côte d’Ivoire

By David Miller

Cocoa certification may not be doing its job. The expansion of the international cocoa industry across the world’s tropical regions has caused significant destruction of tropical forests, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and destroying habitat. Private-sector associations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have implemented certification schemes to try to reduce the deforestation caused by this expansion. However, despite several empirically verified successes in the coffee sector, systematic reviews generally find fundamental weaknesses in reducing deforestation using the certification approach for commodities. 

How can USAID collaborate with the private sector, NGOs, and governments to enable and encourage smallholder farmers to cultivate cocoa exclusively on agricultural lands? In the ProLand project case study, The Role of Governments in Making Certification Effective: Lessons from Côte d’Ivoire, we summarize recent research assessing certification and present the experience of Côte d’Ivoire to illustrate major challenges of the approach. Additionally, we identify promising directions to curtail the impact of our chocolate consumption on the world’s tropical forests. 

The certification schemes deployed in Côte d’Ivoire were unable to prevent the cocoa industry from causing large scale deforestation. It may have even incentivized smallholders to clear forest more aggressively in some instances. On the way to becoming the world’s largest producer of cocoa, Côte d’Ivoire converted its intact forest to a mix of degraded fallows and cocoa farms. Certification failed to prevent deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire because: 

1) certification arrived after much deforestation occurred; 

2) some certification standards allowed for deforestation; 

3) programs were poorly implemented; and 

4) certification schemes contained gaps in coverage, which allowed deforestation to continue on non-certified farms in the landscape 

The Côte d’Ivoire experience also demonstrates the essential role that governments can play in enabling certification schemes to mitigate deforestation. They not only establish and maintain the transportation and market networks and export infrastructure on which commodity production relies, but they also form much of the institutional framework that enables the monitoring of deforestation and other environmental impacts. Governments support the extension services that allow for product traceability and the enforcement of producer compliance with certification criteria. 

They could do more. The most decisive role a government can take to support standards would be to enforce them nationally, using regulatory power to produce a mandatory national state system. In fact, the decades ahead may reveal that non-state certification has been a transitional step towards forest protection by governments themselves. In the meantime, the effectiveness of standards programs will depend on their relationship with governments, and on the effective collaboration of the many parties involved. USAID and other donors can work to strengthen the role of governments in providing enabling environments. 

In the end, no matter what the government does in the future, certification has been too little, too late to conserve many of the forests of Côte d’Ivoire. Yet, the other countries of the region can apply its experiences to the forest that remains. Côte d’Ivoire’s forested neighbors can draw lessons and a warning from its experience. World demand for cocoa will increase, and new roads, political stability, and climate change will expose new areas of forest to profitable cocoa production. Perhaps the most important lesson for Liberia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and other countries with at-risk forests is that governments can play a critical role in which standards can effectively preserve West Africa’s tropical forests.

Strategic Objective
Carbon, Low Emission Development, Conflict and Governance, Food Security and Agriculture, Sustainable Land Management, Land Use, Mitigation, Natural Resource Management, Private Sector Engagement, Sustainable Landscapes

David Miller

Dr. David Miller has over 25 years of experience contributing to the fields of international agricultural development, natural resources management, and environment. Currently, Dr. Miller serves as ACDI/VOCA’s Senior Climate Change Advisor. As Technical Advisor to the African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) program from 2012 to 2015, Dr. Miller lead teams of experts in the implementation of over 20 climate change vulnerability assessments in Africa. Dr. Miller also currently serves part time as the Sustainable Agriculture Intensification Specialist on the USAID ProLand project. Previously, as an international development consultant, Dr. Miller employed a variety of research methods to design, implement, and evaluate a wide range of development activities and programs.

More on the Blog

After more than three years supporting Southeast Asian agribusiness, forestry and other land use companies to lower their greenhouse gas emissions, USAID Green Invest Asia found this sector often lacks trust to jointly address climate risks – and opportunities – even when they share suppliers.
To strengthen communities' access to and management of water and pasture, USAID EKISIL—which means “peace” in the local language of Karamoja—initiated climate risk management (CRM) actions in the Abim, Kaabong, Kotido, and Moroto districts
With agriculture driving deforestation, global climate protection and biodiversity conservation goals seem to collide with the drive to produce more food. Researchers warn of an impending “food security-biodiversity-climate” crisis and “looming land scarcity.”