8 min read
When we work towards creating a better future where our planet and communities can thrive, an essential element to pay close attention to is how we use and change the land around us.
Thus, monitoring land use and land use change is pivotal in guiding and accelerating conservation actions. In recent years, companies have received growing recognition of the importance of addressing deforestation and degradation, including the cocoa supply chain. While cocoa production has received less attention as a driver of deforestation and degradation than palm oil, soy and beef, there are still key forest areas at risk of cocoa expansion.
Companies have established cocoa commitments and programs such as the Lindt & Sprüngli Farming Program and GODIVA's Responsible Cocoa Commitment or certification schemes such as Fairtrade International to tackle deforestation and degradation, among other key sustainability topics. The World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) is crucial in coordinating these initiatives through the Cocoa and Forest Initiative, a voluntary strategy that brings together major cocoa and chocolate companies, governments, and key stakeholders.
However, according to the World Bank, until recently, a comprehensive strategy to address deforestation in the cocoa supply chain has been lacking.
Companies are becoming increasingly proactive in addressing deforestation and degradation, and as a result, many companies today are committed to eradicating deforestation from their supply chains.
Verifying the progress of these commitments had been challenging – with brands and producers relying on ground-based checks by auditing firms.
Recognising the need for an innovative solution, Earthworm Foundation and Airbus joined forces in 2016 to co-develop Starling, a deforestation monitoring platform powered by satellite technology.
By penetrating the dense forest canopy, Starling detects deforestation caused by cocoa cultivation with remarkable precision in almost real-time. Field teams can swiftly respond to alerts, resulting in a significant decline in deforestation. In the quest for sustainable development, this innovative technology has empowered companies, governments, and organisations to navigate their cocoa supply chains and take concrete actions towards combating deforestation.
Here are three ways Earthworm Foundation and its members and partners have utilised Starling to mitigate deforestation risks from cocoa supply chains:
For decades, the history of Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer, has been defined by intensive agriculture at the price of preserving forests (16 million ha of forest in 1960 to 2.5 million now), a carbon reservoir. Fortunately, stakeholders have had a collective awareness to reverse this trend in recent years. In this spirit, a pilot project in 2020 in the Cavally classified forest was funded by Nestlé and implemented by Earthworm Foundation and the Ivorian government agency responsible for forests, SODEFOR. This project was able to put into practice the preservation and regeneration of the Cavally Forest reserve, which had been damaged by more than 30%.
Satellite imagery is crucial for continuously monitoring the evolution of forest cover and, more generally, land use.
The Starling platform is crucial in reconciling environmental preservation and social development. Today, nearly 5 million km² of tropical areas are mapped, in which deforestation is observed. As part of the Cavally Forest Restoration project carried out on behalf of SODEFOR, specific reference maps and deforestation monitoring products have been produced to meet very specific needs, such as early identification of degradation under the canopy, displaying the unique ability of the platform compared to other approaches.
Satisfied with the results obtained from the pilot project and recognising its effectiveness, in 2023, Earthworm Foundation, the Ivorian Ministry of Water and Forests (MINEF), the Swiss Federal Administration (SECO) via the Swiss Platform for Sustainable Cocoa (SWISSCO) as well as companies Touton and Cocoasource, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to continue protecting and restoring the Cavally classified forest, working hand in hand with local communities and improving farmers' resilience. Starling technology is one of the tools used to monitor and measure forest dynamics in the reserve and the periphery.
In 2022, Earthworm partnered with Fairtrade International to monitor deforestation and assess environmental vulnerabilities. To achieve this goal, Starling provided critical deforestation data to cooperatives and their smallholder cocoa farmers in Ghana and Cote D'Ivoire to help support these communities in better managing forest landscapes.
The partnership, which comes amid the European Commission's push to ban imports of palm oil, coffee, cocoa, and other sourced raw materials when production is associated with deforestation, aims to strengthen cooperatives and their smallholder members' access to risk management data, better enabling them to maintain access to their core markets in Europe and beyond.
In 2022, Starling monitored over 29,000 cocoa farms across the globe and, in partnership with our cocoa partners, developed an alert decision tree which assists businesses producing and sourcing cocoa to assess deforestation events and determine suitable actions to investigate and respond to the alerts.
Our work with Önem, Fairtrade International, and Fairtrade Africa has helped improve the decision tree by applying it to their suppliers and cocoa farmers.
As part of this work in 2022, Starling and Earthworm Foundation worked with Small Producer Organisations (SPOs) in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. Small Producer Organisations were provided training on using deforestation alert data to collect field data and share field investigation reports.
Starling's impact extends far beyond cocoa sourcing alone. With an ever-increasing demand for deforestation monitoring, the supply chain areas mapped and monitored by Starling continue to expand.
Currently covering over 30 countries across Asia, Africa, and North and South America, Starling also provides crucial monitoring services for sourced raw materials such as Palm Oil, Pulp & Paper, Coconut and Coffee. Moreover, Starling remains flexible, adapting to the specific needs of businesses by incorporating new raw materials sourcing into its monitoring platform.
As the cocoa industry faces increasing scrutiny for its potential links to deforestation, Starling emerges as a powerful ally in pursuing sustainable cocoa sourcing. By utilising satellite technology, on-ground expertise and offering comprehensive reporting and guidance, Starling empowers businesses, governments and NGOs to navigate their supply chains and landscape areas precisely, facilitating better transparency and accountability.
With each step taken towards deforestation-free supply chains, we move closer to a future where cocoa production flourishes hand in hand with preserving our forests.
"We are driven by the genuine impact we aim to make for forests and communities. Our innovative platform serves as a powerful catalyst for positive change, enabling us to support the preservation of forests and the well-being of people. We are excited about the prospect of working with dedicated companies, offering them a trusted solution to fulfil their No Deforestation commitments and comply with the upcoming EU-DDR regulations. We are excited to empower businesses with this solution to pursue sustainable practices in driving meaningful change," shares Nadja Batista, of Earthworm Foundation.
Learn more about Starling here: https://www.starling-verification.com/