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  • How to sweeten the deal for cocoa farmers?

How to sweeten the deal for cocoa farmers?

Cocoa. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR
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Cocoa is in high demand. In 2018, the global chocolate industry was worth close to USD 100 billion, and it is projected to grow. Consumers are increasingly asking for sustainably sourced products, and new kinds of investors are looking for positive environmental and social impacts, in addition to financial returns.

But, many cocoa farmers are poor, even now when the market price for cocoa is relatively high. During the past two years, when prices were lower, farmers had an even harder time making a living. So much so that Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s largest cocoa producers, recently demanded that chocolate companies pay a minimum floor price for cocoa, in an attempt to guarantee smallholders a minimum income.

While both countries have agreed to sell their 2020–2021 cocoa crops for no less than USD 2,600 per ton, such an agreement has been deemed to be at best a short-term fix for struggling cocoa producers. Rather, say scientists from the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), the cocoa sector urgently needs to completely rethink its business models. Only then will equitable benefit sharing among all actors in the cocoa value chain be possible.

Challenges abound

Cocoa at Machu Picchu. Photo by Marlon del Aguila Guerrero/CIFOR

Peter Minang, leader of landscape dynamics, productivity and resilience research under FTA, pointed out that many national economies in Africa depend on the production of agroforestry commodities such as cocoa, cashew nuts, shea butter, and coffee, cultivated across millions of hectares of forests and parkland. Cocoa alone covers six million hectares across Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire which, combined, supplied around 75 percent of the world’s cocoa in 2018–2019.

In addition to the persistent poverty of cocoa growers, many other problems still need solving, explained Minang. These include plant diseases, such as the cocoa swollen shoot virus, which are affecting the production on several million hectares. The heavy use of pesticides is not a viable solution, as they harm human health, pollinators and the overall environment. The cocoa sector is also under pressure to eliminate the currently widespread use of child labor in West Africa.

“There’s a bigger problem, economically,” Minang continued. “Even though Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire produce 75 percent of the world’s cocoa, they capture a small portion of the total value of the global chocolate industry.”

Minang said that scientists could help provide the knowledge and support required to transform this industry so that smallholder farmers can take part in the market and benefit from its value.

[Read more: Bitter or sweet trade for Africa’s cocoa farmers?]

Investments needed

Tony Simons, the director general of World Agroforestry (ICRAF), said he wanted to encourage greater engagement with the private sector: “For every one dollar OECD donors spend on overseas development assistance in the tropics, there is a thousand dollars of private capital to be mobilized. So why are we only focused on that one dollar?”

Particularly, the emerging area of impact investment could have the potential to make a difference for cocoa farmers. About USD 500 billion of so-called impact investments are currently available. While most of this money is directed at energy, transport or waste-reduction investments within OECD countries, a growing share of impact investors seem to be taking an interest in funding land and forest initiatives in the Global South.

Dietmar Stoian, lead scientist on value chains, private sector engagement and investments with ICRAF, has conducted a series of interviews with potential impact investors to understand how cocoa farmers in Ghana might benefit from such funds. He found that current investments focus mainly on increasing productivity, while paying less attention to environmental and social issues.

“This is all very incipient, when talking about impact investments in cocoa,” Stoian said. “I think there is potential, but investors need to be conscious of the realities and needs of smallholders, and adjust their investment schemes to these conditions.”

[Read more: Financial products should be adjusted to better meet needs of community forest enterprises]

New business models

Cocoa production. Photo by Ollivier Girard/CIFOR

In Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, smallholders dominate more than 90 percent of cocoa production, but they have a weak position in the value chain. Supporting the organization of smallholders into cooperatives and expanding the role of existing ones could improve farmers’ standing, said Stoian.

“One key issue is where value is added,” he explained. “For now, it happens mostly in the importing countries, not in the producing countries. But, we do have examples from Latin America where some cooperatives have become very good at processing cocoa into diverse chocolate products and placing them in domestic markets at favorable prices.”

The Ghanaian cocoa sector might take its inspiration from Bolivia, for example, where the El Ceibo cooperative is marketing organic and Fairtrade-certified cocoa beans, butter and powder to the international market, allowing farmers to capture a higher price. The cooperative has, more importantly, managed to establish its own cocoa-processing plant, and has positioned a broad array of chocolate products in the domestic market, as a gourmet chocolate choice.

Stoian said you might imagine that Kuapa Kokooo – Ghana’s largest cocoa cooperative with around 100,000 members – and other cooperatives in West Africa could create value for their members through a similar approach.

Finally, models that completely bypass financial returns could be very attractive to farmers, while remaining interesting to investors, suggested Stoian. The Livelihoods Carbon Fund, for example, has launched a program in Côte d’Ivoire through which smallholders receive funds for agroforestry systems in return for carbon credits, he said. This allows investors to mitigate their carbon footprint elsewhere, and, according to Stoian, similar schemes are being considered by impact investors in Ghana.

[Read more: If cocoa prices have fallen, why isn’t your chocolate bar cheaper?]

The role of public policy

While impact investments have potential for smallholders, public policy might play an even greater role. To understand how Ghana is in a position to impose a minimum floor price for cocoa, one needs to know that that the farm-gate price for cocoa produced in Ghana is determined by a committee involving state-led regulators.

“The terms under which companies engage smallholders in Ghana are completely dictated by the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), ” commented George Schoneveld, a senior scientist working on value chains, finance and investments for the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). “Change therefore starts with public policy.”

Schoneveld pointed out that COCOBOD is currently partnering with development organizations to solve important challenges, such as replacing old and disease-ridden cocoa stands with improved varieties. “They provide the planting material, replanting support and even compensation payments to enable smallholders to absorb the loss of income associated with replanting,” he said.

However, the COCOBOD-led program’s adoption rates remain low due to tenure insecurity, land scarcity, cultural barriers and other factors. This, according to Schoneveld, highlights the need to build strategic partnerships for more integrated planning and funding approaches, such as is being planned for a large landscape program on cocoa to be led by CIFOR.

Whether the answer to smallholders’ struggles is impact investment, public policy, development programs – or perhaps a combination – remains an open question. Until determined, cocoa farmers will continue to underpin the global chocolate industry, receiving not much more than a bitter aftertaste in return.

##
Some of the discussions on possible directions for a more equitable cocoa sector referenced above took place during the 4th World Congress on Agroforestry in May 2019. Research on the topic is continuing throughout FTA’s program activities.

By Marianne Gadeberg, communications specialist.


FTA is the world’s largest research for development program to enhance the role of forests, trees and agroforestry in sustainable development and food security and to address climate change. CIFOR leads FTA in partnership with Bioversity International, CATIE, CIRAD, INBAR, ICRAF and TBI. FTA’s work is supported by the CGIAR Trust Fund.

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  • Large genetic diversity for fine-flavor traits unveiled in cacao (Theobroma cacao L.) with special attention to the native Chuncho variety in Cusco, Peru

Large genetic diversity for fine-flavor traits unveiled in cacao (Theobroma cacao L.) with special attention to the native Chuncho variety in Cusco, Peru

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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

The fine-flavor cocoa industry explores mainly six chocolate sensory traits from four traditional cocoa (Theobroma cacao L.) varieties. The importance of cocoa pulp flavors and aromas has been ignored until we recently showed that they migrate into beans and into chocolates. Pulp sensory traits are strongly genotype dependent and correlated to human preference. Growers of the native Chuncho variety from Cusco, Peru, which is the cocoa that the Incas consumed, make pulp juices from preferred trees (genotypes). Evaluations of 226 preferred trees evidenced presence of 64 unique mostly multi-trait sensory profiles. Twenty nine of the 40 flavors and aromas identified mimic those of known fruit and flower or spice species such as mandarin, soursop, custard apple, cranberry, peach, banana, inga, mango, nut, mint, cinnamon, jasmine, rose and lily. Such large sensory diversity and mimicry is unknown in other commercial fleshy fruit species. So far, 14 Chuncho-like pulp sensory traits have been identified among different cocoa varieties elsewhere suggesting that Chuncho is part of the ¿centre of origin¿ for cocoa flavors and aromas. Stable expression of multi-trait Chuncho sensory profiles suggest pleiotropic dominant inheritance, favoring selection for quality traits, which is contrasting with the complex sensory trait determination in other fleshy fruit species. It is inferred that the large sensory diversity of Chuncho cocoa can only be explained by highly specialized sensory trait selection pressure exerted by frugivores, during evolution, and by the indigenous ¿Matsigenkas¿, during domestication. Chuncho beans, still largely employed as a bulk cocoa source, deserve to become fully processed as an extra-fine cocoa variety. The valorization of the numerous T. cacao sensory profiles in chocolates, raw beans and juices should substantially diversify and boost the fineflavor cocoa industry, this time based on the Matsigenka/Inca and not anymore on the Maya cocoa traditions.

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  • Forecasting cocoa yields for 2050

Forecasting cocoa yields for 2050

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Cocoa is a food-industrial crop that can have an important role in poverty reduction for small producers in developing countries of Africa, Latin America, Asia and Oceania. The cocoa chocolate value chain moves every year millions of dollars that represent important dividends for producing countries and for national and international companies around the world. The International Model for Policy Analysis of Agricultural Commodities and Trade (IMPACT) is a structural simulation model which allows for future analysis of cocoa market globally. The model has been developed at International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to consider the long term challenges facing policymakers in reducing hunger, and poverty in a sustainable fashion. IMPACT is the main quantitative tool used by the Global Futures & Strategic Foresight (GFSF) initiative, in which Bioversity International is involved as a partner. The aim of this report is to validate the performance and improve parameterization of IMPACT cocoa components. It focuses on ten largest cocoa producing countries in reviewing parameters related to yield growth rates. Based on historical cocoa yield time series forecasts are made using Autoregressive Integrated Moving Average (ARIMA). The forecast together with statistically estimated prediction intervals, supported by literature sources and expert knowledge are compared against respective yield trajectories embedded in IMPACT in order to make recommendations.

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  • Spilling the beans: FTA scientists contribute to new book about sustainable cocoa 

Spilling the beans: FTA scientists contribute to new book about sustainable cocoa 

Cacao produced in Cameroon. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR
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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

With a distinguished editor and a variety of international experts as authors, including a number from the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing recently launched the book Achieving sustainable cultivation of cocoa, considered a new standard reference for scientists and producers of cocoa.

Eduardo Somarriba from the Agriculture, Livestock and Agroforestry Program (PRAGA) at CATIE (Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center) appears as a chapter author, while CATIE’s Rolando Cerda and Wilbert Phillips are coauthors.

Bioversity International’s Stephan Weise, Brigitte Laliberté and Jan Engels also contributed to the book. Meanwhile, the Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) saw a number of contributors across various chapters, namely Philippe Lachenaud, Didier Snoeck, Bernard Dubos, Leïla Bagny Beilhe, Régis Babin, Martijn ten Hoopen, Christian Cilas and Olivier Sounigo.

Read also: Achieving sustainable cultivation of cocoa

According to Francis Dodds, editorial director of Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing, the book discusses the existing challenges standing in the way of making cocoa crops more efficient and sustainable, in order to supply increasing demand, while taking into account the increasing age of plantations, decreasing performance and greater vulnerability to illnesses. At the same time, the authors heed increasing concerns about the environmental impact of cocoa on soil health and biodiversity.

The first part of the book looks at genetic resources and developments in production technologies. The second part discusses the optimization of crop techniques to take maximum advantage of the new varieties, while the third part summarizes recent research about the understanding of and fight against major viral and fungal diseases affecting cocoa. The fourth part covers security and quality issues, and finally the last part of the book analyzes ways to improve sustainability, including the role of agroforestry, organic crops, and ways to support small producers.

Achieving sustainable cultivation of cocoa

Notably, Somarriba and Philips contributed to the first and fifth sections of the book, with Somarriba addressing the issue of the analysis and design of the shade canopy of cocoa in agroforestry systems, and Phillips looking at the main challenges of conservation and exploiting cocoa genetic resources.

Read also: CATIE continues to improve people’s wellbeing across Latin America and Caribbean through education and research

The book was edited by the recognized and cocoa expert, Pathmanathan Umahran, director of the Research Centre for Cocoa and professor of genetic at the University of the Occidental Indies, in Trinidad and Tobago.

Martin Gilmour, Director of Research and Sustainability Development of Cocoa at Mars Global Chocolate, stated in a press release from Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing that the book would be of great interest for researchers, development agencies, governments, specialists in the industry and non-government organizations, as well as anyone interested in improving cocoa crop sustainability.

Adapted from the article by CATIE communicator Karla Salazar Leiva, originally published by CATIE.

For more information, contact Karla Salazar Leiva at [email protected] or Eduardo Somarriba, Leader of CATIE’s Agriculture, Livestock and Agroforestry Program, at [email protected].

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  • Achieving sustainable cultivation of cocoa

Achieving sustainable cultivation of cocoa

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There is a growing demand for cocoa. However, cultivation is dependent on ageing trees with low yields and increasing vulnerability to disease. There is growing concern about the environmental impact of cultivation in areas soil health and biodiversity. There is therefore an urgent need to make cocoa cultivation more efficient and sustainable to ensure a successful future. These challenges are addressed in Achieving sustainable cultivation of cocoa.

Part 1 reviews genetic resources and developments in breeding. Part 2 discusses optimising cultivation techniques to make the most of new varieties. Part 3 summaries the latest research on understanding and combatting the major fungal and viral diseases affecting cocoa. Part 4 covers safety and quality issues whilst the final part of the book looks at ways of improving sustainability, including the role of agroforestry, organic cultivation and ways of supporting smallholders. With its distinguished editor and international range of expert authors – including a number from CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) scientists – this collection will be a standard reference for cocoa scientists, growers and processors.

Part 1 Genetic resources and breeding

1. Taxonomy and classification of cacao: Ranjana Bhattacharjee, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Nigeria; and Malachy Akoroda, Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria, Nigeria;
2. Conserving and exploiting cocoa genetic resources: the key challenges: Brigitte Laliberté, Bioversity International, Italy; Michelle End, INGENIC (The International Group for Genetic Improvement of Cocoa), UK; Nicholas Cryer, Mondelez International, UK; Andrew Daymond, University of Reading, UK; Jan Engels, Bioversity International, Italy; Albertus Bernardus Eskes, formerly CIRAD and Bioversity International, France; Martin Gilmour, Barry Callebaut, USA; Philippe Lachenaud, Centre de coopération internationale en recherche agronomique pour le développement, France; Wilbert Phillips-Mora, Center for Tropical Agriculture Research and Education, Costa Rica; Chris Turnbull, Cocoa Research Association Ltd., UK; Pathmanathan Umaharan, Cocoa Research Centre, The University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago; Dapeng Zhang, USDA-ARS, USA; and Stephan Weise, Bioversity International, Italy;
3. The role of gene banks in preserving the genetic diversity of cacao: Lambert A. Motilal, The University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago;
4. Safe handling and movement of cocoa germplasm for breeding: Andrew Daymond, University of Reading, UK;
5. Developments in cacao breeding programmes in Africa and the Americas: Dário Ahnert, Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, Brazil; and Albertus Bernardus Eskes, formerly CIRAD and Bioversity International, France;

Part 2 Cultivation techniques

6. Cocoa plant propagation techniques to supply farmers with improved planting materials: Michelle End, INGENIC (The International Group for Genetic Improvement of Cocoa), UK; Brigitte Laliberté, Bioversity International, Italy; Rob Lockwood, Consultant, UK; Augusto Roberto Sena Gomes, Consultant, Brazil; George Andrade Sodré, CEPLAC/CEPEC, Brazil; and Mark Guiltinan and Siela Maximova, The Pennsylvania State University, USA;
7. The potential of somatic embryogenesis for commercial-scale propagation of elite cacao varieties: Siela N. Maximova and Mark J. Guiltinan, The Pennsylvania State University, USA;
8. Good agronomic practices in cocoa cultivation: rehabilitating cocoa farms: Richard Asare, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ghana; Victor Afari-Sefa, World Vegetable Center, Benin; Sander Muilerman, Wageningen University, The Netherlands; and Gilbert J. Anim-Kwapong, Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana, Ghana;
9. Improving soil and nutrient management for cacao cultivation: Didier Snoeck and Bernard Dubos, CIRAD, UR Systèmes de pérennes, France;

Part 3 Diseases and pests

10. Cocoa diseases: witches’ broom: Jorge Teodoro De Souza, Federal University of Lavras, Brazil; Fernando Pereira Monteiro, Federal University of Lavras and UNIVAG Centro Universitário, Brazil; Maria Alves Ferreira, Federal University of Lavras, Brazil; and Karina Peres Gramacho and Edna Dora Martins Newman Luz, Comissão Executiva do Plano da Lavoura Cacaueira (CEPLAC), Brazil;
11. Frosty pod rot, caused by Moniliophthora roreri: Ulrike Krauss, Palm Integrated Services and Solutions (PISS) Ltd., Saint Lucia;
12. Cocoa diseases: vascular-streak dieback: David I. Guest, University of Sydney, Australia; and Philip J. Keane, LaTrobe University, Australia;
13. Insect pests affecting cacao: Leïla Bagny Beilhe, Régis Babin and Martijn ten Hoopen, CIRAD, France;
14. Nematode pests of cocoa: Samuel Orisajo, Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria, Nigeria;
15. Advances in pest- and disease-resistant cocoa varieties: Christian Cilas and Olivier Sounigo, CIRAD, France; Bruno Efombagn and Salomon Nyassé, Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD), Cameroon; Mathias Tahi, CNRA, Côte d’Ivoire; and Sarah M. Bharath, Meridian Cacao, USA;

Part 4 Safety and sensory quality

16. Improving best practice with regard to pesticide use in cocoa: M. A. Rutherford, J. Crozier and J. Flood, CABI, UK; and S. Sastroutomo, CABI-SEA, Malaysia
17. Mycotoxins in cocoa: causes, detection and control: Mary A. Egbuta, Southern Cross University, Australia;
18. Analysing sensory and processing quality of cocoa: Darin A. Sukha and Naailah A. Ali, The University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago;

Part 5 Sustainability

19. Climate change and cocoa cultivation: Christian Bunn, Fabio Castro and Mark Lundy, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Colombia; and Peter Läderach, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Vietnam;
20. Analysis and design of the shade canopy of cocoa-based agroforestry systems:Eduardo Somarriba, CATIE, Costa Rica; Luis Orozco-Aguilar, University of Melbourne, Australia; Rolando Cerda, CATIE, Costa Rica; and Arlene López-Sampson, James Cook University, Australia;
21. Organic cocoa cultivation: Amanda Berlan, De Montfort University, UK;
22. Cocoa sustainability initiatives: the impacts of cocoa sustainability initiatives in West Africa: Verina Ingram, Yuca Waarts and Fedes van Rijn, Wageningen University, The Netherlands;
23. Supporting smallholders in achieving more sustainable cocoa cultivation: the case of West Africa: Paul Macek, World Cocoa Foundation, USA; Upoma Husain and Krystal Werner, Georgetown University, USA.

This book is available for order from the publisher, Burleigh Dodds Science Publishing.

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  • Optimizing carbon stocks of cocoa landscapes can help conserve Africa’s forests

Optimizing carbon stocks of cocoa landscapes can help conserve Africa’s forests

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A woman holds a cacao bean, which can be processed into butter and cream. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

Cocoa is the primary source of income in southern Cameroon, where it represents 48% of total agricultural land use. In this and other tropical regions, the way cocoa agroforests are managed matters immensely to livelihoods, and also to the climate.

Cocoa agroforests vary widely in terms of tree composition and structure, but, until recently, few studies had been conducted to understand how these differences impact carbon stocks.

Meanwhile, irresponsible land management practices were not only seeing cocoa plantations fail to contribute to countries’ emissions reductions goals, but also cause massive forest degradation in countries such as the Côte D’Ivoire and Ghana, which are alone responsible for two-thirds of the world’s cocoa production.

This ‘cocoa belt’ had been becoming increasingly prone to deforestation and drought, and cocoa landscapes in other high-producing countries in Asia and Latin America had been following suit.

But when chocolate companies began making deforestation-related commitments at the UNFCCC COP21 in Paris, the tide began to change on the industry’s standards and practices. It also then became imperative for scientists to generate knowledge to help the expected changes transform cocoa forest landscapes in the most beneficial ways.

In response, CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) institution the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and other partner organizations profiled the carbon stocks of cocoa agroforests in three southern Cameroonian ecological areas (Yaoundé, Mbalmayo and Ebolowa) and identified what types of plants and management systems boost carbon storage best.

“This knowledge is important to implement nationally determined contributions [NDCs] to the global climate agenda and its measures to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation [REDD+] by promoting sustainable cocoa value chains,” says lead author and CIFOR senior scientist Denis Sonwa.

Since COP21, the world’s largest chocolate companies – Mars, Nestle and Ferrero to name a few – have come together in a variety of agreements, from an agreement signed by the Prince of Wales to a sectorial “Frameworks for Action” at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. The goal is to see the industry achieve net-zero deforestation and improve local livelihoods, and this research is a crucial step along the way.

Read also: Baseline for assessing the impact of fairtrade certification on cocoa farmers and cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire

COCOA’S COMRADES

The researchers aimed to answer a string of questions including how carbon stocks of cocoa agroforests varied across ecological zones and management methods, and how carbon storage compared between different types of plants associated with cocoa – and the stocks of some key species, in particular.

“What we found is that agroforests with a high density of high-economic value industrial timber and non-timber forest products stored two to three times the amount captured by other management systems,” explains Sonwa.

A dish of cacao beans awaits processing in Cameroon. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

Plantations with a high density of banana plants and oil palm trees came next, and those with cocoa tree densities of 70% or higher came in last. Specifically, the above-ground parts of plants in these varied types of cocoa agroforests stored 147 Mg of carbon per hectare, 49 Mg and 39 Mg, respectively.

Researchers also found that above-ground parts of the other plants accounted for 70% of the carbon storage, while cocoa trees accounted for only 5%.

Across all three ecological zones, high-value timber accounts for 29.7% of the total carbon stored above ground, at 49.9 Mg per hectare; edible species for 15%; and medicinal plants for 6%.

Read also: Unpacking ‘sustainable’ cocoa: do sustainability standards, development projects and policies address producer concerns in Indonesia, Cameroon and Peru?

RICH PICKINGS

Another conclusion of the study is that “the top ten species generally stored more than 50% of carbon held by associated plants,” with Terminalia superba – a tall deciduous tree native to the African tropics – among the species with a higher storage (14 Mg per hectare).

These results “suggest that associated plants not only contribute to shade, but also increase the capacity of farms to store carbon,” notes the study. And the benefits of such plants go well beyond that. Indeed, the higher ecocapacity of cocoa agroforests lead to increases in plant litter fall, soil litter and rainfall, thus upgrading both the agronomic and environmental potential of the landscape. Meanwhile, a plantation solely growing cocoa does threaten overall agro-ecological sustainability.

Sonwa points out that non-cocoa plants provide a structure similar to that of forests, and that their products and services appear as cobenefits of cocoa agroforestry in addition to carbon storage. Timber, non-wood forest products such as fruit, and medicinal plants may all contribute to local livelihoods and to biodiversity conservation.

“Simultaneously obtaining several products and services from the same plantation increases the resilience of farmers,” he says. “That is particularly important as the pressure on natural resources increases.”

Read also: Greater inclusion of women is needed to optimally intensify cocoa value chains, researchers find

BEYOND THE BEANS

In the last few decades, the main goal of cocoa agroforests was to produce cocoa beans, but demographic growth, climate change and loss of forests are changing this approach.

For the researchers, the multiple functions of cocoa agroforests should be at the center of efforts to fight global warming and achieve better outcomes for people and the planet. “This is why our findings are useful to scientists, and also to decision-makers, farmers and the private sector,” says Sonwa.

The findings of the paper can, for example, be useful to certification schemes that want to improve the environmental footprint of the cocoa sector. They also offer key insights to cocoa agroforest managers, particularly given the current context where zero deforestation targets are at the center of many company agendas.

In Sub-Saharan Africa where most of the world’s cocoa originates, the paper is certainly useful in structuring efforts to free the cocoa value chain from deforestation. But going beyond that, in central Africa and the Congo Basin, it sheds light by offering productive agroforestry options that conserve remaining natural forests while providing livelihoods.

“We have examined cocoa agroforests from an ecological perspective, so the next step would be to look at economic and production aspects,” says Sonwa. “For example, does storing more carbon in associated plants affect cocoa production — and how?”

The findings make clear that sustainable cocoa agroforest management in Sub-Saharan African forest landscapes can reconcile cocoa bean production with climate change responses, and big global initiatives, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

But, it also makes clear how much there is left to learn about chocolate.

By Gloria Pallares, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Denis Sonwa at [email protected].


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Sustainable Tree Crops Program (STCP) and Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD).

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  • Optimizing carbon stocks of cocoa landscapes can help conserve Africa’s forests

Optimizing carbon stocks of cocoa landscapes can help conserve Africa’s forests

Posted by

FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

A woman holds a cacao bean, which can be processed into butter and cream. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

Cocoa is the primary source of income in southern Cameroon, where it represents 48% of total agricultural land use. In this and other tropical regions, the way cocoa agroforests are managed matters immensely to livelihoods, and also to the climate.

Cocoa agroforests vary widely in terms of tree composition and structure, but, until recently, few studies had been conducted to understand how these differences impact carbon stocks.

Meanwhile, irresponsible land management practices were not only seeing cocoa plantations fail to contribute to countries’ emissions reductions goals, but also cause massive forest degradation in countries such as the Côte D’Ivoire and Ghana, which are alone responsible for two-thirds of the world’s cocoa production.

This ‘cocoa belt’ had been becoming increasingly prone to deforestation and drought, and cocoa landscapes in other high-producing countries in Asia and Latin America had been following suit.

But when chocolate companies began making deforestation-related commitments at the UNFCCC COP21 in Paris, the tide began to change on the industry’s standards and practices. It also then became imperative for scientists to generate knowledge to help the expected changes transform cocoa forest landscapes in the most beneficial ways.

In response, CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) institution the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and other partner organizations profiled the carbon stocks of cocoa agroforests in three southern Cameroonian ecological areas (Yaoundé, Mbalmayo and Ebolowa) and identified what types of plants and management systems boost carbon storage best.

“This knowledge is important to implement nationally determined contributions [NDCs] to the global climate agenda and its measures to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation [REDD+] by promoting sustainable cocoa value chains,” says lead author and CIFOR senior scientist Denis Sonwa.

Since COP21, the world’s largest chocolate companies – Mars, Nestle and Ferrero to name a few – have come together in a variety of agreements, from an agreement signed by the Prince of Wales to a sectorial “Frameworks for Action” at COP23 in Bonn, Germany. The goal is to see the industry achieve net-zero deforestation and improve local livelihoods, and this research is a crucial step along the way.

Read also: Baseline for assessing the impact of fairtrade certification on cocoa farmers and cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire

COCOA’S COMRADES

The researchers aimed to answer a string of questions including how carbon stocks of cocoa agroforests varied across ecological zones and management methods, and how carbon storage compared between different types of plants associated with cocoa – and the stocks of some key species, in particular.

“What we found is that agroforests with a high density of high-economic value industrial timber and non-timber forest products stored two to three times the amount captured by other management systems,” explains Sonwa.

A dish of cacao beans awaits processing in Cameroon. Photo by O. Girard/CIFOR

Plantations with a high density of banana plants and oil palm trees came next, and those with cocoa tree densities of 70% or higher came in last. Specifically, the above-ground parts of plants in these varied types of cocoa agroforests stored 147 Mg of carbon per hectare, 49 Mg and 39 Mg, respectively.

Researchers also found that above-ground parts of the other plants accounted for 70% of the carbon storage, while cocoa trees accounted for only 5%.

Across all three ecological zones, high-value timber accounts for 29.7% of the total carbon stored above ground, at 49.9 Mg per hectare; edible species for 15%; and medicinal plants for 6%.

Read also: Unpacking ‘sustainable’ cocoa: do sustainability standards, development projects and policies address producer concerns in Indonesia, Cameroon and Peru?

RICH PICKINGS

Another conclusion of the study is that “the top ten species generally stored more than 50% of carbon held by associated plants,” with Terminalia superba – a tall deciduous tree native to the African tropics – among the species with a higher storage (14 Mg per hectare).

These results “suggest that associated plants not only contribute to shade, but also increase the capacity of farms to store carbon,” notes the study. And the benefits of such plants go well beyond that. Indeed, the higher ecocapacity of cocoa agroforests lead to increases in plant litter fall, soil litter and rainfall, thus upgrading both the agronomic and environmental potential of the landscape. Meanwhile, a plantation solely growing cocoa does threaten overall agro-ecological sustainability.

Sonwa points out that non-cocoa plants provide a structure similar to that of forests, and that their products and services appear as cobenefits of cocoa agroforestry in addition to carbon storage. Timber, non-wood forest products such as fruit, and medicinal plants may all contribute to local livelihoods and to biodiversity conservation.

“Simultaneously obtaining several products and services from the same plantation increases the resilience of farmers,” he says. “That is particularly important as the pressure on natural resources increases.”

Read also: Greater inclusion of women is needed to optimally intensify cocoa value chains, researchers find

BEYOND THE BEANS

In the last few decades, the main goal of cocoa agroforests was to produce cocoa beans, but demographic growth, climate change and loss of forests are changing this approach.

For the researchers, the multiple functions of cocoa agroforests should be at the center of efforts to fight global warming and achieve better outcomes for people and the planet. “This is why our findings are useful to scientists, and also to decision-makers, farmers and the private sector,” says Sonwa.

The findings of the paper can, for example, be useful to certification schemes that want to improve the environmental footprint of the cocoa sector. They also offer key insights to cocoa agroforest managers, particularly given the current context where zero deforestation targets are at the center of many company agendas.

In Sub-Saharan Africa where most of the world’s cocoa originates, the paper is certainly useful in structuring efforts to free the cocoa value chain from deforestation. But going beyond that, in central Africa and the Congo Basin, it sheds light by offering productive agroforestry options that conserve remaining natural forests while providing livelihoods.

“We have examined cocoa agroforests from an ecological perspective, so the next step would be to look at economic and production aspects,” says Sonwa. “For example, does storing more carbon in associated plants affect cocoa production — and how?”

The findings make clear that sustainable cocoa agroforest management in Sub-Saharan African forest landscapes can reconcile cocoa bean production with climate change responses, and big global initiatives, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

But, it also makes clear how much there is left to learn about chocolate.

By Gloria Pallares, originally published at CIFOR’s Forests News.

For more information on this topic, please contact Denis Sonwa at [email protected].


This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, which is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

This research was supported by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Sustainable Tree Crops Program (STCP) and Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD).

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  • CATIE continues to improve people's wellbeing across Latin America and Caribbean through education and research

CATIE continues to improve people’s wellbeing across Latin America and Caribbean through education and research

A family poses with their agricultural produce. Photo by CATIE
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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

CATIE provides families with information about climate-smart agriculture. Photo by CATIE

Ever since its inception in 1973, CATIE (the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center) has supported countries to enrich their rural populations’ quality of life, as well as addressing agricultural issues and improving natural resources management.

Celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, CATIE continues to remain focused on generating and disseminating knowledge, putting it into practice and encouraging the adoption of relevant ideas, which has led to it being known as a regional research platform and an internationally recognized higher education institution.

As a CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) partner institution, CATIE provides the program with a solid science-based approach across the diverse communities in which it engages, as well as the applicability and transference of knowledge to countries and communities through the development of projects and pilot programs.

CATIE works in food security, forest management, gender, agroforestry, value chain and agribusiness, sustainable livestock production, environmental economics, and territorial approaches. Providing solutions for development, sustainable agriculture and natural resources management in Latin American and Caribbean territories, and improving human wellbeing, have been the driving force behind CATIE’s work in the region over the past 45 years, in coordination with key national, regional, and international partners, combining post graduate education, research and innovation.

“CATIE has become an ally to the region’s countries as it constantly generates new knowledge, making it available, with the finality of facing existing challenges and achieving acquired commitments at an environmental, economic and social level,” said CATIE Director General Muhammad Ibrahim.

In terms of higher education, CATIE has seen 2,530 professionals graduate with master’s and doctoral degrees, and has trained more than 70,000 people in various fields related to sustainable agriculture development and natural resources conservation.

Through our students’ thesis and graduation projects, we make important contributions to countries of the region, giving an answer to problems and real necessities; additionally, once they have graduated and become professionals, they go back to their countries willing to work for the most vulnerable populations,” said Isabel Gutiérrez, Dean of the Postgraduate School of CATIE.

CATIE has supported cocoa producers with training. Photo by CATIE

The research itself has also had important results, positively affecting the quality of life of thousands of rural families. CATIE is seen as a pioneer institution in terms of encouraging agricultural production that at the same time allows for the conservation of ecosystem services through agroforestry systems.

CATIE has spread sustainable forest management throughout Latin American countries generated knowledge for the establishment of forest plantations, worked to simplify national policies to encourage the forest sector and provided the region with high quality forest seeds.

It has also promoted water management and conservation, working on the governance of water basins. Knowledge generated on the subject of silvopastoral systems is being used in the region as a base for Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) and livestock policies for lower greenhouse gas emissions.

CATIE has conserved thousands of genetic resources for coffee, cocoa and other crops that are great importance for food security in its germplasm collections. In the case of coffee and cocoa, some of the resources have been used to generate new varieties that are more tolerant to disease, more productive and of higher quality.

CATIE has supported the elaboration of policies for countries in the region on issues related to REDD+, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and agriculture and sustainable livestock. It has generated tools and knowledge related to the environmental economy that promote policies and incentives to conserve natural resources and capture carbon.

Francisco Alpízar, Director of the Research Directorate for Green and Inclusive Development, said the role CATIE plays had been developed jointly with local and international partners in a participative and interdisciplinary way.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim noted that CATIE’s vision over the coming years would focus on offering leadership in the generation of ‘agents of change’ and in search of answers to multiple challenges facing region and the world, which have been emphasized in the Sustainable Development Goals and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

For more information, contact CATIE communicator Karla Salazar Leiva at [email protected].

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  • Unpacking 'sustainable' cocoa: do sustainability standards, development projects and policies address producer concerns in Indonesia, Cameroon and Peru?

Unpacking ‘sustainable’ cocoa: do sustainability standards, development projects and policies address producer concerns in Indonesia, Cameroon and Peru?

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Sustainable cocoa has attracted considerable attention. However, stakeholders in cocoa development may differ in their understanding of sustainable cocoa, their interests and actions taken in advancing sustainable cocoa. This article analyses cocoa sustainability at nested scales and analyses to what extent sustainability standards, policies and development projects address sustainability concerns and contribute to ecosystem services. The analysis is based on literature reviews and key informant interviews in Sulawesi (Indonesia), Ucayali (Peru) and Centre Region (Cameroon). Producers in all three countries shared concerns of price volatility, weak farmer organizations and dependence on few buyers. Producers in Sulawesi and Centre Region compensated low returns to cocoa production by diversification of cocoa systems. Public and private development actors were concerned with low production volumes. Research has so far focused on biodiversity loss, which differed depending on the cocoa sector’s age in a country. Policies and development programs in all countries have focused on cocoa sector expansion and productivity increases, irrespective of smallholder needs for economically viable farming systems and existing market structures resulting in little bargaining power to farmers. Sustainability standards have spread unevenly and have converged in compliance criteria over time, although initially differing in focus. Recently added business and development criteria of sustainability standards can potentially address farmers’ concerns. Competing interests and interdependencies between different actors’ responses to concerns have so far not been openly acknowledged by public and private sector actors.

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  • Greater inclusion of women is needed to optimally intensify cocoa value chains, researchers find

Greater inclusion of women is needed to optimally intensify cocoa value chains, researchers find

A woman carries a basket in Peru. Photo by ICRAF
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FTA COMMUNICATIONS TEAM

Researchers interview smallholder cocoa farmers in Peru. Photo by Trent Blare/ICRAF

Working with smallholders in the valley of the rivers Apurimac, Ene and Montaro (VRAEM), a region of Peru, is a challenging task.

The region produces approximately 70 percent of the country’s illicit coca and is home to the last remnants of the Shining Path, an armed group that fought against the state between the 1980s and early 2000s.

But the area is now also of importance to cocoa production in the country as governmental agencies, cocoa buyers and development programs have been seeking to help expand and intensify cocoa production. Smallholders who had abandoned their farms after many years of conflict have now returned and are seeking alternatives to coca production.

Researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) have supported one of the alternative initiatives, a cocoa value-chain development project sponsored by Lutheran World Relief and Sumaqao, a Peruvian cocoa buyer. Sumaqao has a long history of purchasing cocoa in the VRAEM and working with smallholders throughout Peru on fair trade and sustainable production. ICRAF was asked to evaluate how the project could have a larger impact on smallholders’ livelihoods and what steps should be taken to ensure that value-chain development is gender inclusive.

It was an opportunity to examine how gender inequalities — including access to services, participation in cooperatives and decision-making in households — hindered value-chain development, as well as the implications of gender relations for development strategies in the Peruvian Amazon, an area that has received little attention.

The ICRAF team conducted four structured interviews within each of the sampled households — aimed at reducing the potential of bias and inaccuracies — to explore gender-based differences in cocoa participation.

The first set of interviews included female and male household heads together. Following the interviews, the team discussed the answers and considered any discrepancies pertinent to the next interviews. The second set was conducted separately with each household’s primary male and female, covering their productive activities, perceptions of their involvement in cocoa production and the project. Finally, women were interviewed on their use of time the day before, as well as their interest in, and barriers to, their participation in the cocoa value chain. Key informant interviews were also carried out with non-governmental organizations, cocoa buyers and governmental officials to verify and clarify the findings.

A woman carries a basket in Peru. Photo by ICRAF

The results revealed that cocoa intensification programs have greatly enhanced productivity and households’ incomes. Women played an important role in the transformation. They often carried out the same tasks as men, especially harvest and post-harvest activities, and were involved in making decisions on how the earnings from cocoa production were spent. However, women were excluded from making decisions about the marketing of cocoa and the purchase and sale of land and farm equipment.

Importantly, women’s increased participation in cocoa production had not been supported by a corresponding decrease in domestic work. About 30 percent of the interviewed women said that they were constrained by a lack of time to participate in training and cooperative meetings, even though they were interested in cocoa production. Women often felt uninformed about meetings, the provision of technical assistance and market conditions.

By looking at the impact of gender relations on intensification, relevant but nuanced and often neglected aspects of production and marketing that might determine the potential for value-chain development started to become more visible. One of them was the tension between women’s interest in participation in cocoa production and the time they had available for it. The gender dynamics around decision-making were also considered to be possibly related to their constraints in accessing information about markets, buyers and technical support.

Work to enhance cocoa production has had, and will likely continue to have, important impact on household incomes and wellbeing, suggesting that exploration should continue of gender dynamics, focusing on the gender responsiveness of value chains at various levels.

Recommendations for the development of a gender-inclusive value chain included sensitizing technicians to respond to the needs of women interested in cocoa production, testing diverse extension approaches that encouraged learning and exchange between men and women of different ages, as well as the use of alternative forms of communication technology that have a wider reach among different groups with varying literacy levels.

The results also suggested a need to move beyond the promotion of only cocoa to a “livelihoods approach”, which would include other economic activities that are also important for women and their household finances in the VRAEM.

Further, policies and programs promoting the intensification of cocoa production should also explore opportunities to transform gender relations that constrain women’s time, mobility and access to information instead of focusing on static or traditional gender roles that may already be changing because of male out-migration. The role of intersecting disadvantaging factors in creating barriers to deeper cocoa engagement also needs more examination. Further research will be needed to look at how factors like age and marital status influence these barriers at different stages of the value chain.

By Ana Maria Paez-Valencia and Trent Blare, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World.


This study forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA) and CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM), which are supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.


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