Can cocoa farmers live from the air?

People are becoming more and more sensitive to the carbon footprint of the products they use. Many are changing their consumption habits and opt as much as possible for products with the lowest footprint. At the other hand, the industry is committing to reduce the carbon footprint of products they produce in the framework of policies to mitigate climate change. Some of them commit to being carbon neutral or even carbon negative. Two sides of the same coin. As a result, the market for products with low carbon profiles will grow.

In order to meet the carbon objectives, the industry will reduce their own emissions and buy carbon credits to cover for the part they can’t reduce. In calculating the carbon footprint of a product all emissions over the entire life cycle have to be taken into account. The life cycles of products that are made from tree crops, like chocolate bars, have a carbon intake (or sequestration) at the origin. In the life cycle calculation of the carbon footprint of the chocolate bar, this intake must be deducted from the total. This allows the industry to reduce the carbon credits they should buy and still end up carbon neutral. As there is a market price for carbon credits, this means we can attach a value to the carbon sequestration. As a producer of the cocoa, the farmer should be entitled to receive this value as a reward for his work.

Off course there are a lot of issues that need to be solved before this principle can be put into practice. Although standards do exist for the calculation of carbon footprints related to products, for instance, ISO 14068:2018, there is no commonly accepted method to calculate the carbon sequestration of cocoa production. Without such a method there is no basis to calculate the price a farmer should receive. For instance, how do we take into account that cocoa is being produced on land that was previously not used, maybe because it was still forest land? What would be an acceptable the cut-off date beyond which former land use can be neglected? What is the relation of commitments of cocoa-producing countries in the framework of the Paris Agreement? Other issues may also pop up. For instance, could we also take into account the carbon sequestration of shadow trees related to cocoa production? And yes, the market price of carbo credits is not very high (yet).

But it is worthwhile exploring how these issues can be solved. Imagine the impact:
– it will provide cocoa farmers (and farmers with other crops) with a new source of revenue
– it will make planting and maintaining shadow trees more economically viable
– it will improve the economics of agroforestry, making cocoa an even more reliable instrument for reforestation
– it will promote long term contracts between farmers and their buyers, as this enables the buyers to make forecasts of their carbon footprints and their use of carbon credits, thereby reducing the vulnerability of cocoa producers to market changes.

Enough potential benefits I would say to have a closer look at this case and see how we can make it work. I would be happy to join forces with anyone who is just as eager as I am to see how we can make farmers benefit from climate change mitigation and help them make a part of their living out of (cleaning the) air.