Towards climate-friendly cacao supply chains

Copyright: Alfredo D'Amato / Panos

Speed read

  • Indonesia’s cocoa production rising — but plantation carbon emissions also up
  • Climate change advocate urges planters to use carbon insetting in farm systems
  • This system is said to improve competitiveness of farmers in their supply chain

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[JAKARTA] A climate-friendly farming system called carbon insetting is being pushed in Indonesia’s cacao plantations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also improving farmer’s livelihood, business and the environment.

Indonesia is the world’s third largest producer of cocoa, which is made from cacao beans, after Ivory Coast and Ghana. According to Indonesia’s central statistics agency, the country produced 710,000 tonnes of cacao beans in 2014, of which 91 per cent came from smallholders. But while the demand for chocolates is on the rise, the rate of greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia’s cacao plantations is increasing.

Carbon insetting is a process that requires embedding sustainable activities within the direct supply chain of large companies, allowing them to invest on the improvement of agricultural activities as part of the supply chain.

“This improved farm management practice can increase productivity as well as the competitive advantage of companies in the marketplace,” says Peter Laderach, programme leader for climate change at the non-profit International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

He says a lot of companies nowadays want to use carbon offsetting, wherein they purchase carbon credits in the carbon market to make them look carbon neutral.

“But that does not help the farmers in their supply chain,” he notes. On the other hand, “carbon insetting would allow companies to pay farmers to decrease emissions. In fact, we want them to use the money to maintain some kind of extension system that helps increase yield and especially decrease emissions per unit produced”.

To start embedding carbon insetting, Laderach and his team are developing a method to calculate carbon footprints and carbon stocks in Indonesia’s cacao agricultural system and to identify the best ways to reduce carbon emissions, aside from trees and the proper use of cocoa husk. Chemical fertilizer is suspected to be the most dominant factor affecting carbon footprints.

But Fitria Yuliasmara, a researcher at the Indonesian Coffee and Cocoa Research Institute, tells SciDev.Net the cocoa agricultural system in Indonesia is already friendly to the environment, compared to other plantation crops. In 2010, he measured carbon stocks of cocoa plantations in Indonesia and found the plantations can produce 25 million tonnes of carbon stocks per hectare in ten years.

“Cacao plantations in Indonesia already act more as a carbon sink than as a carbon emitter. The plantations use shades that involve many big trees,” he points out.

“About 91 per cent of these plantations are owned by smallholders who rarely use fertiliser, a suspected source of carbon emission. They only use the seed of cacao fruits, the rest of the plants are left in the plantation, making it ‘above ground carbon stocks.’”

Yuliasmara says that if there is anything that could be improved in cacao plantations to increase carbon stocks, this would be the management of placing shade trees amid the cacao trees.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.