Supporting legality

Developing pilot projects on blockchain and timber traceability

The trade in timber and other commodities associated with deforestation, such as palm oil, cacao, and rubber is global. There is a good chance that many products in your home, ranging from shampoo to flooring, are linked to deforestation. Not only does information from independent monitoring support environmental governance reform at the national level, but it also helps limit market access to illegal and unsustainabley sourced products.

While blockchain is a new technology, it has already proven effective in building more trustworthy supply chains for a variety of goods ranging from wine to pharmaceuticals. However, it has yet to be applied to traceability of ethical commodities which continue to rely on centralised systems that are expensive, inflexible, and subject to fraud. REM has partnered with Gaiachain on a pilot project to test the feasibility of applying blockchain to traceability in West Africa, using its additional experience of fraud and drivers of deforestation in producing countries to complement the technology.

Charcoal Project, Ivory Coast - REM partnership with Gaiachain and Malebi

Charcoal production is a major driver of deforestation throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Gaiachain implemented a pilot project with Malebi, a women's association in Ivory Coast dedicated to the production of sustainable charcoal.

Executive summary of the project, April 2021
Blockchain technology for good charcoal governance in Ivory Coast (pdf FR)

Blogpost, March 2020: Towards charcoal traceability in the Ivory Coast

Gaiachain experts Kacper Gazda and Eulalie Guillaume were contracted by NGO REM who specialise in forest monitoring to implement a one-year project to pilot charcoal traceability in Ivory Coast. As part of the project, they spent two weeks there with local partner Malebi to investigate a charcoal supply chain. Why? To understand the real-world challenges and implications of using a blockchain-based app for traceability.

‘Malebi’ means charcoal in the local Adjoukrou language of a southern Ivory Coast district. It’s also the name for the Association of Women Producers and Traders of Secondary Forest Products, who are on a mission to make legal and sustainable charcoal production a reality for a country that has one of the worst deforestation histories in recent years. In a country where half of the urban population uses charcoal for cooking and its scent fills the air from the ubiquitous maquis (street restaurants) in the capital Abidjan, charcoal is an incredibly important fuel source. Unfortunately, much of the charcoal production comes from illegal sources, and sometimes from protected forest reserves. Malebi is leading regenerative work to reverse the trend by restoring forests, adopting agroforestry practices and fighting poverty and food insecurity — all the while changing attitudes about women in forestry in the Ivory Coast.

Delphine Ahoussi, President of MALEBI, greeted Eulalie and Kacper when they recently landed in Abidjan for a pilot project in charcoal traceability in the classified Ahua Forest.

The aim of the project is to use REM’s expertise in tackling illegal activities linked to deforestation combined with Gaiachain’s innovations in traceability and identification of forest products, to help Malebi guarantee the provenance of their charcoal. The team is also working with Malebi on defining a legality and sustainability framework to eventually help them distinguish their legal charcoal and take advantage of “green” markets.

Step one of the trip was to map out MALEBI'S local supply chain, starting from the charcoal production sites in the Ahua forest, a 4500 ha area close to the city of Dimbokro in the south of the country. From harvesting the wood, the logs are then chopped and carbonised in large kilns (ovens) to create charcoal. From there, the charcoal is bagged and transported by truck to Abidjan, where it is stored and sold to individuals and small restaurants who come to purchase from the storage facility. Kacper and Eulalie were able to follow the charcoal at every step of the journey, from forest to market, and the insights gained will be invaluable for the next step of the project, finalising the app that Malebi will be able to use to trace and distinguish their legally produced charcoal from the others out there on the market.

Once finalised, the simple Gaiachain app will allow MALEBI'S members to enter identification data at every point of the supply chain, and give buyers confidence that the charcoal they are purchasing is from a legal source.
Although a work in progress, we expect data including a unique ID, GPS, and transportation data to be included in the capabilities of the app. It will be interesting to see what sort of effect the labelling and transparency of this innovative project will have on the local communities and buyers, but we expect it to be increasingly important in coming years, especially if MALEBI wish to enter the international market and access the growing EU demand for responsibly sourced timber products, which will require evidence to prove legal and ethical origins.

This is one of two pilot projects currently being implemented by Gaiachain experts. The other, led by Gaiachain, focuses on cocoa production, also in the Ivory Coast. We believe that a blockchain-based traceability app, combined with rigorous governance and on-the-ground practices could help companies make some long-awaited progress towards zero-deforestation commitments that have so far failed to come to fruition. Stay tuned for progress on the collaboration with MALEBI and their legal charcoal production efforts in the Ivory Coast.

If you are a company looking to take action on your zero-deforestation commitments, or an organisation interested in partnering to enhance sustainable commodity production, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with us:

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