The cultivation of cacao beans — the raw ingredient for chocolate — is known to contribute to deforestation and a number of other problems. Human rights issues such as child labor in particular have garnered widespread awareness even in Japan, far away from the primary production regions in Africa.
Yet a report released in 2020 by NORC at the University of Chicago has revealed that there were indeed still 1.56 million children working in cacao production as recently as 2019, which goes to show that efforts to eliminate child labor have unfortunately not been sufficiently effective.
The hard reality behind child labor is that farming families do not earn enough income through cacao production. One promising solution to improve the situation of these families is agroforestry. Also known as forest farming and multi-story cropping, agroforestry is a farming method where forests are planted using different types and sizes of trees, and then multiple varieties of crops are grown in the soil below. In contrast to conventional monoculture farming, agroforestry is thought to help provide farmers with a stable income because they can harvest not only cacao, but other crops and wood as well.
While agroforestry does not require cutting down trees and is considered beneficial for the environment, this report by the Voice Network identifies existing challenges that are preventing it from becoming more widespread. One issue in particular is that there is not enough overall cooperation that engages every stakeholder. For example, there is a lack of training for farmers, who are also having difficulty making ends meet and cannot cover the necessary start-up costs. It thus feels as if the main thing holding back the rise of agroforestry is the fact that farmers are being left behind.
Below is an excerpt of the report’s recommendations for genuine promotion of agroforestry, and how that would contribute to resolving human rights issues within the cacao industry:
Costs and benefits are a collective responsibility.
It is key to create a mechanism which commits the entire cocoa sector, thus mobilising the necessary resources and creating a level playing field.
The belief is that the solidarity and co-ownership of collective responsibility and the fairness of a level playing field are especially vital in resolving human rights issues.
I’m a fan of chocolate myself, and thus form part of the value chain. As someone with shared ownership of the issues long facing children, producers and others in cacao-producing regions, I want to act responsibly as a consumer to ensure fairness throughout the industry. Yet at the same time, I would like to see governments and companies connected to the cacao industry make greater attempts at solving these issues through efforts like introducing agroforestry.
Kaori Yamamoto (Author), Translation by Sarah Noorbakhsh
Photo by Elias Shariff Falla Mardini by Pixabay