SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
17 July 2014
Volume 15 Issue 7
GLOBE ARCHIVE  –  CONTACT US  –  CONTRIBUTE TO GLOBE
 

Return to the Globe

Sustainability of Swiss Chocolate Production

Joke van Wensem, TCB, Soil Protection Technical Committee

Swiss chocolate

The value of the sustainability concept, and underlying concepts such as ecosystem services and footprints, for environmental management is best demonstrated when related to an actual case. As a follow-up on the successful “Whisky Session” held at the 2013 SETAC Glasgow meeting, the Sustainability and Ecosystem Services advisory groups organized a special session on the “Sustainability of Swiss Chocolate Production.” Given the high number of participants, the SETAC audience seems to appreciate this approach.

The main ingredients in chocolate are cocoa beans, the fruit of cacao trees. The production of cocoa beans depends on a wide range of goods and services from ecological systems such as nutrients from the soils, water and shade from the forests, as well as the local agrarian society. The increasingly high demand for cocoa beans is a threat to soil fertility and stimulates the farmers to use artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Shade is the natural habitat of cocoa trees. Currently, new strains are being developed which allow a second harvest of beans and are more sunlight tolerant. This induces farmers to cut down the shade trees and plant more cacao trees. The practice of unshaded and lightly shaded cocoa farming might rend high yields in the short run, but it is not sustainable in the long term as the cocoa system will increasingly rely on agrochemicals. The localized, mostly small farm production systems of cocoa beans connects to the global economic system through commerce, finance and regulation. Many cocoa bean farmers earn barely enough to make a living by growing a raw material that is used for manufacturing a luxury product. The manufacturing of chocolate comes with a considerable environmental footprint and a socio-economic imbalance. Consumers of chocolate are far wealthier than producers of cocoa beans and do not only enjoy the taste and comfort of chocolate, but they also may benefit from positive health effects from certain compounds found in dark chocolate.

Amarens Felperlaan, consultant at CREM, presented options and bottlenecks for payments for ecosystem services in cocoa farming. Her main conclusion was that maintaining shade trees in combination with good agricultural practices such as correct pruning and removal of black pods is key to a sustainable cocoa production. Apart from its ecosystem services such as pest control, maintenance of soil fertility and an improved water holding capacity,  it may help to improve the farmers' income through sales of commercial timber as well as contribute to preserving future supplies of cocoa and biodiversity. Bottlenecks to implementation include the difficulty of quantifying ecosystem services, lack of financial mechanisms and practical examples, and the fact that the market is not ready to pay.

Swiss chocolate

Larry Kapustka, senior ecologist at LK Consultancy, addressed the ecological–social–ethical interactions of chocolate manufacturing by elaborating on a CNN documentary featuring Anthony Bourdain. In this documentary, a whole year’s supply of a rare variety of cocoa beans from wild trees form a remote location is used to produce 7,000 bars, sold for a price of $18 per bar. Though Bourdain stated that he did not have a problem with wealthy people who can afford making impulse buys in expensive gourmet shops and spending a lot of money on chocolate, he was wondering whether the growers were happy about the enterprise and, on balance, better off because of it. Larry showed the interconnections between chocolate manufacturing, ecological (provisioning, regulating, cultural and supporting ecosystem services), social and ethical dimensions.

Niels Jungbluth, managing director of ESU-services Ltd., addressed the life cycle assessment of Swiss chocolate and concluded that chocolate is a product with comparable high impact. The environmental impacts of chocolate are dominated by the agricultural production of cocoa beans and milk. The packaging and distribution are of minor importance. Dark chocolate has the lowest impacts, but he noted that tax free chocolate transported by airplane can cause considerably higher impacts.

Petra Heid with Chocolate Halba gave an overview of the many environmental, social and economical challenges for the cocoa production and trade, and she focused on what a manufacturer can do, under the motto, “Added value for everyone.” Heid spoke about direct sourcing, which is working directly with cocoa cooperatives, using long-term contracts and clear guidelines and avoiding unnecessary intermediaries. Fair prices, premiums and upfront financing are needed. Specific projects focus on joint investments in infrastructure, reforestation, anti-child labor programs, micro-irrigation and training for cocoa farmers.

Swiss chocolate

Joke van Wensem with the Soil Protection Technical Committee (TCB) gave an overview of scientific evidence for chocolate health benefits. She concluded that there is scientific evidence for both physical and mental health effects of (dark) chocolate though there is much uncertainty, and dose-effect relationships are badly needed. There seems to be some consensus about a beneficial dosage of 10g dark chocolate per day (less than 70% cacao). Negative health effects are less well studied, and studies without effect are often not reported.

The discussion reflected a genuine interest of the participants for a more sustainable cocoa production and trade, which resulted in many additional technical questions for the presenters. The fact that chocolate is a luxury product seemed an additional motive to strive for sustainable production of it. Not all participants seemed to have been aware of the fact that they can choose to buy more sustainable chocolate. At the end of the session participants were able to taste and compare four different types of cocoa beans and the chocolate that was made from them.

Authors' contact information: vanwensem@tcbodem.nl

Return to the Globe

Contact SETAC Globe
Contact the SETAC Europe office
Contact the SETAC Europe office