Never have consumers been so attuned to the story behind the food they eat. But the journey from the food system we have to the food system we want could be measured in decades. This is especially true of commodities. When we know where a commodity is sourced, we can put effective and impactful sustainability practices in place.
But because no two commodities are exactly alike, our methods and parameters for tracking and monitoring them shouldn’t be either. That’s why Mars believes the European Commission’s recent deforestation legislation could be strengthened by replacing the use of geo-coordinates with the more precise and accurate practice of GPS polygon mapping. It is vital that the proposed traceability provisions for the cocoa sector reflect the specific nature of the cocoa industry.
In November 2021, the European Commission unveiled its Deforestation Regulation proposal, which aims to minimize the EU’s contribution to deforestation and forest degradation, as well as greenhouse gases and biodiversity loss. The proposed legislation includes comprehensive provisions on deforestation that Mars has been publicly advocating for since 2019. These policies will be vital to transforming the sectors within its scope — including the cocoa and chocolate sector — in positive ways as we go forward.
As the largest importer and consumer of cocoa in the world, the EU has the ability and responsibility to drive meaningful change in the cocoa industry via rigorous supply chain protocols. Under the proposed Deforestation Regulation, every market that sources cocoa for EU products could reap the benefits of a single, unified system that raises standards and helps level the playing field across the sector. Mars welcomes and applauds this important step on the path to progress, but as each of the six commodities covered in the scope of the proposal face their own unique challenges and scenarios, their supply chain safety guardrails shouldn’t all look the same.
The case for GPS polygon mapping
Seventy percent of the world’s cocoa supply comes from West Africa, and 60 percent of that is grown in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Most are smallholders working plots of land that are four hectares or less, planted with aging, unproductive cocoa trees that generate little income.
Given that the cocoa value chain predominantly comprises smallholder farms that can be challenging to track, it is critical that the EU’s current proposal be revamped to take this into account in the traceability provisions for cocoa. The use of precise and accurate GPS polygon mapping, which traces the entire perimeter of a farm for increased transparency and traceability, would provide an additional layer of insight and vigilance. It would increase the ability to verify that the cocoa being purchased has been grown within the boundaries of the farm and not in forests or other natural ecosystems that may be located nearby. With this level of detail and accuracy, it would be easier to prevent cocoa laundering and to verify that cocoa is being grown in deforestation-free areas. And using this technology would help empower makers of cocoa products with the transparency needed to give today’s consumers what they want — which is to purchase products that do not originate from deforested areas.
By applying polygon mapping to farms in the cocoa sector, it would allow cocoa to serve as a transformation case study that could potentially inform best practices for other commodities with highly-concentrated supply chains.
Support and funding for traceable and deforestation-free cocoa
Mars is deeply committed to forest preservation and has already set a goal to achieve a deforestation-free cocoa supply chain by 2025. As part of its journey toward that goal, Mars has established strong partnerships with others and continues to work with suppliers and non-EU-based sourcing countries to reach the goal of having 100 percent of its cocoa responsibly sourced and traceable to the first point of purchase in the next three years. The farmers that are part of Mars’ Responsible Cocoa Program are also expected to use polygon mapping to trace farm boundaries, and by 2025, Mars aims to exclusively source from suppliers who meet these traceability expectations.
Stopping deforestation starts with transparency and technology, but success hinges on supporting the local farming communities at the heart of the supply chain. Although strongly supported by smallholder farmers because of the benefits it could provide — for example, facilitating the implementation of electronic payments, leaner farmer cooperatives and more — additional traceability requirements can put an extra burden on them, so it is vital that the EU partners with West Africa’s governments on funding and technical support that ensures it is feasible for cocoa farmers to adhere to new sustainability mandates. And while the Deforestation Regulation is urgently needed, it also needs to be implemented in way that gives smallholder farmers and other key players in the cocoa industry enough time to adapt their supply chains.
Demand for cocoa is steadily rising and the global cocoa market is expected to reach new heights by 2027. This makes it especially critical that we implement savvy and thoughtful practices, including the use of GPS polygon mapping, that support the long-term sustainability of the entire cocoa supply chain. With proactive efforts, conscientious regulation and collaborative partnerships across the industry, we can have our deforestation-free chocolate, and eat it, too.