Takeaways about AP’s research into cocoa from a protected Nigerian rainforest

By | December 20, 2023

OMO FOREST RESERVE, Nigeria (AP) — The habitat of a dwindling population of critically endangered African forest elephants is under threat, a victim of the world’s chocolate hunger.

Deforestation caused by planting cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, is reducing the Omo Forest Reserve, a protected rainforest in southwestern Nigeria that helps combat climate change and is one of Africa’s oldest and largest UNESCO biosphere reserves. Farmers are expanding into protected areas where cocoa growing is banned, conservation officials say.

The Associated Press spoke to 20 farmers, two brokers and five licensed purchasing agents who grow and sell cacao from the reserve to find out where the cacao beans used in Christmas candy go.

Here are the conclusions from AP’s research:


The AP visited plantations and warehouses of farmers and recognized buyers who acknowledge that they operate illegally in the nature reserve of the reserve. AP also spoke to brokers who work in the forest and visited facilities of major cocoa trading companies just outside the reserve.

They say they supply Singapore-based Olam Group and Nigeria’s Starlink Global and Ideal Limited, the latter of which sends cocoa to General Cocoa in the US. A smaller number is called Tulip Cocoa Processing Limited, connected to Dutch traders.

“We buy from farmers and sell to large companies that export, such as Olam and Starlink,” said Deborah Fabiyi, manager at Kadet Agro-Allied Investments Limited, a licensed purchasing agent in the protected area.

These large trading companies supply Nigerian cocoa to major chocolate manufacturers such as Mars Inc. and Ferrero, but because the chocolate supply chain is so complex and opaque, it is not clear whether cocoa from deforested parts of the Omo Forest Reserve ends up in the sweets they make, such as Snickers, M&M’s, Butterfinger and Nutella. Mars and Ferrero list on their websites agricultural resources that are close to or overlap with the forest, but do not offer specific locations.

In October, AP tracked a van loaded with bags of cocoa beans from the protected zone to an Olam warehouse outside the forest entrance. Olam confirmed that the facility was theirs.

AP also photographed cocoa bags with the names and logos of Olam and Tulip in farmers’ warehouses in the nature conservation area. In an interview with AP, Starlink acknowledged that it sources cocoa from the Omo Forest Reserve.


According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, an estimated 1.4 million people in Nigeria, equivalent to about half of Nevada’s population, depend on cocoa production for their livelihood. But the aging cocoa trees are becoming less productive, forcing farmers into the Omo reserve.

“The deforestation caused by the expansion of cocoa also stems from the world’s demand for cocoa to make chocolate,” said Emmanuel Olabode, a conservation manager who oversees the reserve’s rangers. “It’s astronomical.”

The rangers blame the state government, which owns the forest, for not enforcing the law banning cocoa cultivation. Several buildings in the protected zone, including farm houses and warehouses, have been marked for removal by the government, but this has not taken place.

Recognizing “the threat” of “illegal” cocoa farming in the forest, the Ogun state government told AP that it forcibly evicted the farmers in 2007 before they returned.



The Singapore-based food conglomerate says it is ‘banning’ members of its farmers group ‘Ore Agbe Ijebu’ from ‘sourcing from protected areas’.

“Any supplier that deforests illegally will be removed from our supply chain,” Olam Food Ingredients or Ofi said in a statement to AP, adding that it is “undertaking thorough investigations.”

The company says it visits every farm to record GPS coordinates and meets with each farmer to agree boundaries that are often unmarked.

Farmers who say they sell cocoa from the forest to Olam noted that they are not members of the Ore Agbe Ijebu farmers group and had never heard of it.


Tulip says it is “confident” that its supplies do not come from protected areas. It says its cocoa is certified by the Rainforest Alliance, which monitors compliance with sustainability standards, and that it uses GPS maps of farms.

Tulip’s general manager, Johan van der Merwe, said that ‘field employees’ complete digital questionnaires about purchasing from all farmers and suppliers. He also says that Tulip’s cocoa bags are reused and widely distributed, so it is possible that they could be seen across Nigeria.

Farmers and purchasing agents who say they sell cocoa to Tulip told AP they were not required to complete any questionnaires before their cocoa was purchased.


The company sources cocoa from the reserve, spokesman Sambo Abubakar told AP. While Starlink doesn’t make sustainable sourcing claims on its website, it supplies at least one company that does: General Cocoa, the U.S. subsidiary of Paris-based Sucden.

Starlink has a “traceability program to determine the quality of cocoa, get to know the farmers and make them aware of best practices,” Abubakar said.

But this program has not yet been extended to Omo Reserve and Ogun State, he said.


Ferrero says its supplies meet “strict requirements” that are independently certified, adding that GPS mapping and satellite monitoring of farms show its “cocoa sourcing from Nigeria does not come from protected forest areas.”

The company that makes Ferrero Rocher, Nutella, Baby Ruth, Butterfinger and Crunch bars said the cocoa it gets from Ofi through the Ore Agbe Ijebu farm group is verified by the certification body, Control Union.

The Netherlands-based body said it assessed a sample of farms against Ofi’s own sustainability policy and that “the specific criteria and protocols identified in the verification have been established by Ofi.”

Control Union said it would not reveal the results to AP, citing privacy.


The company says its suppliers follow Mars deforestation policy standards and that it is committed to ensuring that “100% of our cocoa is responsibly sourced globally and traceable to the first point of purchase by 2025.”

It says farms that are part of the Responsibly Sourced Cocoa program are “expected” to be mapped, allowing the company behind Snickers, M&Ms, Dove, Twix and Milky Way to hold suppliers accountable if suspected deforestation occurs.

Mars says preliminary findings show none of the mapped farms overlap with the reserve.


Jean-Baptiste Lescop, secretary general of Sucden Group, says the company is managing forest conservation risks by sourcing cocoa from the Rainforest Alliance, mapping farms and using satellite imagery, but that it is an “ongoing process” because Most farmers in Nigeria do not have official land. ownership documents.

The company is investigating reports of problems and working on a response to AP’s findings about Starlink, he said.


The German chocolate company sources cocoa from Nigeria and uses Olam, but has not disclosed specific locations where its supplies come from in Nigeria. It told AP that Olam confirmed its supplies were outside deforested forests.


The Associated Press’ climate and environmental reporting receives support from several private foundations. View more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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