Grafted cocoa wows farmers and visitors at Petit Bondoukou
By Claude Adjehi and Daisy Ouya
Around two years ago when the Vision for Change cocoa project opened up a centre in Petit Bondoukou village in Côte d’Ivoire, local farmers were invited to participate in field trials aimed at sustainably improving cocoa yields. Mr Koume Koume was among the first farmers to sign up. Today, his decision to offer up a portion of his cocoa farm for demonstration trials under the project is paying off.
The quarter-hectare section of Koume’s farm in which old and under-producing cocoa trees were grafted with a high-yielding variety has become the talk of the village. Visitors and passers-by marvel at the large, heavy cocoa pods on trees grafted just 18 months ago. And the 40 year-old father of six says he is glad he chose to join the cocoa trials back in October 2010.
Kouame’s and other farmers’ demonstration plots sit on the shoulders of the dusty, major road in Petit Bondoukou. This siting is deliberate, explains Mr Germain Yao, the field technician in charge the day-to-day operations of the Cocoa Development Center (CDC) at Petit Bondoukou.
“We want all the passers-by to see for themselves the difference on farmers’ own fields,” he states.
Yao is responsible for overseeing and monitoring the experimental plots on farmers’ fields. Set side by side, the sub-plots, each measuring 50 m², are testing and comparing the productivity of existing cocoa orchards under five different conditions:
- Under-producing cocoa trees replaced with high-yielding ones,
- Under-producing cocoa trees revitalized through grafting with improved varieties;
- Fertilizer application and recommended agricultural practices,
- No fertilizer but with recommended agricultural practices, and
- Farmers’ original practices maintained.
The Cocoa Development Centre at Petit Bondoukou was the first one set up under the Vision for Change (V4C) project, a long-term initiative in West Africa funded and supported by the global confectionery manufacturer Mars Chocolate. The public–private-sector partnership is seeking to raise cocoa yields in a sustainable way, in order to both meet the strong and growing global demand for chocolate (whose key ingredient is cocoa), and sustainably raise the incomes and livelihoods of cocoa farmers.
Project partners in Côte d’Ivoire include the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Conseil du Café et du Cacao (CCC), Centre National de Recherche Agronomique (CNRA), Agence National d’Appui au Développement Rural (ANADER), local universities, and industry peers. Currently, the project is working with 10,000 smallholder farmers in Petit Bondoukou and other villages in Soubré, with a target of reaching 150,000 farmers by 2020. Soubré currently has over a dozen Cocoa Development Centres.
In addition to coordinating on-farm trials, V4C project partners are working on seedling production using vegetative propagation and tissue culture technologies; participatory land health research; post-harvest processing and marketing; socio-economics; and policy research.
Back in the modest building housing Petit Bondoukou’s Cocoa Development Centre, Yao pulls out his Visitors’ Book. It has lots of “Wow’s” written by different hands.
“Almost everyone visiting the grafting subplot says ‘Wow!’; Big, heavy cocoa pods on trees grafted just 18 months ago is quite impressive!” he smiles.
“I should harvest 1 to 1.5 tons per hectare from my grafted cocoa. That is very innovative!” says farmer Koume.
With higher yields of improved-quality cocoa, he looks forward to the earnings from his cocoa farm enabling him better meet his family’s needs. And he has plans to further develop his 50- hectare farm—established by his own father 30 years ago—into a profitable and sustainable cocoa enterprise.
I wish my entire farm was grafted,” says Kouame.
As the project scales up, that dream is not too far-fetched.
World Agroforestry Centre cocoa webpage http://worldagroforestry.org/events/cocoa-farming
Agroforestry systems research at the World Agroforestry Centre
Cocoa Futures: An innovative programme of research and training is transforming the lives of cocoa growers in Indonesia and beyond. No. 09, Trees for Change’ publications series. ICRAF