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Regrowing after crisis: the cocoa farmers of Gola Rainforest edge

The Fair Trade Organic Cocoa Butter in Lush’s new Charity Pot Coin is grown by Sierra Leonean farmers living on the Gola Rainforest edge. Lush’s supplier Tradin Organic supports farmers with training on ecological and organic agriculture. Together, they are reforesting one of the most biodiverse, and threatened, rainforests in West Africa.

A green diamond of luscious rainforest glimmers in the heart of the west coast of Africa, spanning the size of New York City. Home to the pygmy hippopotamus and over 300 species of birds, the Gola Rainforest National Park is a treasured haven for wildlife in Sierra Leone. Internationally recognised as a ‘biodiversity hotspot’, more than half of the plants found in the national park are unique and indigenous to the region. Despite the national park’s protected status, this paradise for endangered species had come under threat.

Sierra Leone has faced extreme adversity in recent history, from military violence to a health crisis, to exploitative industrial practices. A decade-long civil war-ravaged across the country from 1991, killing at least 50,000 people and displacing hundreds of thousands of others. The Gola Rainforest, once more than five times its size, has fallen victim to deforestation from mining, logging and damaging agricultural practices, fuelled by profit-driven pressures from foreign companies. Very little of the financial wealth created by these extractive industries has remained in Sierra Leone.

The Ebola crisis in 2014 saw over 15,000 Sierra Leoneans infected, causing the loss of livelihoods for countless others. Ebola plunged many rural farmers, who make up about 70% of the workforce, into difficult times. Many cocoa farmers, unable to sell their produce during the Ebola crisis, were forced to neglect their crops. Rural communities and the cocoa industry in Sierra Leone were in desperate need of revitalisation.

The path toward ecological, social and economic health

In a country that has faced such extreme crises and exploitation, what does the path to equity look like? Regenerative agriculture could offer some solutions.

Regenerative agriculture is a pathway to abundant yields and holistic ecosystem health that also encompasses human community and ‘social ecology’ into the living system. It can also provide a platform for social justice and workers’ rights.

Tradin Organic, one of Lush’s existing suppliers of cocoa butter, noticed an opportunity to contribute to a more equitable farming system. With the vision of encouraging the social and economic health of forest edge farming communities, they aimed to discourage further deforestation while replanting the rainforest and increasing biodiversity.

In 2017, Tradin Organic established a local subsidiary and has since been working with regenerative agriculturalists and organic growers to create farmer field schools. Several years later, the supplier has grown strong relationships with local farmers, and have helped over 36,000 of them to obtain Organic certification, and supported an additional 11,000 to become Fair Trade certified. These credentials allow farmers to sell their produce for a much better price, with Fair Trade guaranteeing a minimum and protecting from pricing fluctuations of the market.

Cocoa: butter for better times

Traceability in cocoa value chains can be a real challenge, making it hard to hold traders and buyers accountable. Child labour has often permeated the cocoa industry, especially in West Africa, although this is believed to be less of a widespread issue in Sierra Leone due to farms being smaller in size and family-owned. To further support Sierra Leonean farmers in building on practices that put central value on the livelihoods and working conditions of rural farming communities, Tradin Organic partners with a reputable child safety organisation to help curb the possibility of dangerous labour practices and provide economic means and incentives to prevent incidences of child labour.  

Now with over 65 farmer field schools and nearly 100 demonstration sites, reaching over 6,600 people, farmers on the Gola rainforest edge are able to appreciate first-hand the benefits of effective organic and regenerative agriculture practices. Tree seedlings are also being distributed through the field schools and other service centres. By intercropping food trees amongst cocoa in a healthy and diverse polyculture, farmers are able to work toward food sovereignty, growing nutritious and culturally appropriate foods for their households and communities, while also extending and replenishing the Gola Rainforest.

Creating positive ripple effects

One central tenet of regenerative agriculture, and other regenerative design systems like Permaculture or Agroecology, is about creating cascading benefits throughout the whole system. How can communities be designed in ways that create health and abundance for everyone and everything within the community, and beyond?

Lush has used this principle and put it into the form of a product: Charity Pot Coin. 100% of proceeds (minus the sales tax) of this naked, vegan body lotion, are pooled into a fund which offers grants to grassroots charities and campaigns working in the areas of animal protection, human rights and environmental protection. The ingredients of the Charity Pot Coin are carefully sourced in line with Lush’s Ethical Buying Policies. The cocoa beans sourced from Sierra Leonean farmers bordering the Gola Rainforest are fermented and dried by the farmers and then sent to the Crown of Holland facility in the Netherlands to be processed into top quality Fair Trade Organic Cocoa Butter. This becomes one of Charity Pot Coin’s skin-softening ingredients.

Returning the lustre to Sierra Leone’s green diamond

Moving forward, Tradin Organic Sierra Leone are increasing their support across the bioregion. The company soon hopes to offer climate positive cocoa, meaning that the agriculture practices sequester more carbon than the process creates. This is a beacon of optimism for such a widely used food and cosmetic ingredient.

With the devoted reforestation work by forest-edge farming communities, the lustre of Sierra Leone’s green diamond is returning, offering hope for fairer farming practices and for the rich biodiversity of the Gola Rainforest.

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