Cocoa farmers in Nigeria

Illegal Cocoa Farming Destroys Nigerian Rainforest

Cocoa farmers in Nigeria are moving into protected areas of the Omo Forest Reserve, a tropical rainforest located 135 kilometers northeast of Lagos. The forest is home to endangered species like African forest elephants, and cocoa from the reserve is purchased by some of the world’s largest cocoa traders.

These traders supply Nigerian cocoa to chocolate manufacturers like Mars Inc. and Ferrero, but it is unclear if cocoa from deforested parts of Omo Forest Reserve makes it into their sweets.

The government in Ogun state, which owns the forest, claims that the “menace of cocoa farming” in the reserve dates back decades and that all illegal farmers were forcefully evicted in 2007. However, forest guards say new farms are sprouting up in remote areas that are difficult to detect. Lax government enforcement has made combating cocoa expansion a challenge, with threats from logging activities, poaching, and expansion of farming and community settlements.

The conservation zone is the only remaining vital rainforest in Nigeria’s southwest, helping absorb carbon from the atmosphere and meet its pledges under the Paris climate agreement. The European Union has enacted a new regulation on deforestation-free products, requiring companies selling commodities like cocoa to prove they have not caused deforestation. Experts at the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria are launching a “Trace Project” in six southern states to advance efforts against deforestation in cocoa production and ensure Nigeria’s cocoa is not rejected in Europe.

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