Cocoa farmers in Ghana can heave a sigh of relief as the European Union (EU) has clarified that the majority of cocoa from the West African country is at no risk of an EU market ban.
Legislation passed in December by the EU parliament seeks to ban some commodities linked to deforestation, including cocoa, coffee, soya, and beef.
Cocoa production is tagged as the leading cause of deforestation in West Africa, a region responsible for two-thirds of global cocoa beans output.
Civil society groups, farmer cooperatives, the industry regulator and the government of Ghana alike have been reeling from the introduction of the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR).
Ghana exports more than 80 per cent of its annual cocoa output to the European Union.
Fears are that hundreds of thousands of smallholder cocoa farmers in Ghana will be left destitute when the EUDR comes into force.
But interacting with members of the Ghana Civil-society Cocoa Platform (GCCP) during his recent visit to Accra, the EU Director General for International Partnerships (INTPA), Regis Meritan (PhD), said the concerns are unfounded.
Dr Meritan explained that when the implementation of the law commences, in two years, it will only apply to produce from cocoa farms established after December 2020, and not those existing before.
“The objective of this law in Europe is to say thanks to our law we are stopping deforestation. And what happened before the law started, and it had been deforested before, it is too late,” he underscored.
The INTPA chief further clarified, “So, what we want is not to continue to encourage new deforestation.”
Ghana is the second largest producer of cocoa beans globally, after its neighbour Cote d’Ivoire. More than 800,000 farmer families account for her output.
The country’s annual production has averaged 800K metric tonnes in the last decade, with most of it exported in the raw state to the EU and other markets.
With local value addition capacity almost non-existent, cocoa growers are apprehensive that a ban on Ghana cocoa from the EU market will inflict unimaginable hardship on them.
“Even without a ban, cocoa farmers are living in squalor due to low international market and farmgate prices for our harvests,” complained Leticia Yankey, President of Cocoa Mmaa, a female-only cocoa farmer cooperative in Ghana’s Central Region.
But Regis Meritan strongly assuaged the fears of cocoa farmers, in both Ghana and Ivory Coast, of any adverse impact of the EUDR on their livelihoods.
“I do not think that the regulation on deforestation will have a major impact on your ability to continue to sell your cocoa and your cocoa to be imported into Europe,” Dr Meritan assured.
“I am not talking about 100 per cent of your production, but I think we are talking about 98 per cent of your production or 95 [per cent] I will be probably right,” he stated.
The European Union DG for International Partnerships rather insisted that “the main problem that could happen is more probably linked to your own legislation than this new criterion applied by the EU after 2020.”
According to him although the majority of cocoa farms in Ghana predate the EUDR cut-off date of December 2020, the designation of such farmlands by Ghanaian law as protected areas could be problematic.
A Co-Convenor of the GCCP, Obed Owusu-Addai, advocated urgent reforms in the structure of the global cocoa industry to prioritise the incomes and livelihood of farmers.