Chocolatier protecting Madagascar’s lemurs sets sights on carbon credits

Beyond Good works directly with 93 cocoa farmers in Madagascar.

Beyond Good, a maker of premium chocolate in Madagascar, aims to start selling carbon credits as it works with cocoa farmers to boost reforestation and provide a safer habitat for lemurs.

The company, based in New York, is working with Conservation International and the United Kingdom’s Bristol Zoo after identifying five species of lemurs, and possibly a sixth, in copses of trees under which the Criollo cocoa variety used to make their chocolate is grown.

It’s setting up corridors—initially using boxes and later shade trees­between patches of forest so that the endangered primates found only in Madagascar can move around without the risk of being killed by predators such as dogs. With much of the area having been cleared to grow rice and tobacco, saving the forest may help increase their numbers outside protected areas and, ultimately, allow for the sale of carbon credits.

“What we are trying to do is intentionally plant corridors where lemurs can transfer safely,” Ryan Kelley, the managing director of Beyond Good Madagascar, said in an interview. “We’re measuring the amount of carbon that is sequestered.”

The species found so far among the cocoa trees are the northern giant mouse lemur, the Sambirano fork-marked lemur, the mouse and dwarf lemurs and the Gray’s sportive lemur. A sixth, so far identified only by its droppings, is likely to be the black lemur, according to the company, which says a new study will soon be released on the animals.

‘Carbon sinks’

Forests absorb carbon, acting as so-called carbon sinks. If that absorption can be quantified it can be sold as credits to companies to offset the greenhouse gases they emit from activities such as power generation using fossil fuels. They can be earned by preserving forest that otherwise would have been cut down, and can be traded on a number of international exchanges.

Beyond Good is expanding rapidly and earning carbon credits would add to its income and that of the farmers it works with. In 2019, it made 700,000 chocolate bars and this year the number is about 2.1 million. Production is seen at as many as 3.9 million chocolates in 2023.

Currently, cocoa is harvested from 300 hectares (741 acres) of land and Beyond Good expects to buy 200 tons of beans. It hopes to quadruple the number of farmers it works with within three to five years.

While Madagascar accounts for a fraction of global cocoa production, chocolate made from its beans offers a unique fruity flavor, Kelley said. The island nation off Africa’s east coast is the world’s biggest producer of vanilla.

The company was founded by Tim McCollum, who traveled to Madagascar in 1999 and spent two years there as a Peace Corps volunteer. He later established the firm to buy cocoa directly from farmers.

Beyond Good is in talks to set up a similar operation in Uganda, where it would establish a chocolate factory and most likely enlist farmers along the country’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo to grow cocoa. Chocolate could be produced from the end of next year, Kelley said.

“We are trying to find a sweet spot where we are beyond artisanal so we get economies of scale,” he said.

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