New technologies for cocoa farming pull youth, secure chocolate
“In one of our project sites in Cote d’Ivoire, a university graduate recently went back to his family’s cocoa farm of his own accord,” Christophe Kouamé said, to make the point that new technologies can make farming more appealing to young people.
The senior scientist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and manager of the public-private partnership called Vision for Change was speaking at an ICRAF side event at the Africa Agriculture Science Week (AASW6) in Accra, a city with a large interchange (roundabout) named after Tete Kwashi, the man who first introduced cocoa in Ghana in 1879.
The audience at the event engaged with ICRAF scientists on the potential of agroforestry to improve nutrition and food security on the continent.
By technology, Kouamé did not mean the latest gadget or smartphone app, but technologies that revitalize cocoa farming and make it more profitable and sustainable. Grafting, which can rejuvenate an unproductive farm, is one such technology. Newly re-invigorated farms are yielding 1.5 tonnes per hectare in one of the project sites, up from less around 600 kg per hectare 18 months ago. Improving crop husbandry and controlling pests and diseases are other priorities.
New technology and fresh thinking is at the heart of the Vision for Change: Building a sustainable cocoa communities partnership project, funded by Mars Chocolate. The project has brought together ICRAF researchers with Centre National de Recherche Agronomique (CNRA), Agence Nationale d’Appui au Développement Rural (ANADER), and Cocoa and Coffee Board (CCC) in Cote d’Ivoire, towards a common goal.
The partnership emerged from a realization that cocoa orchards in West Africa were suffering from a complex of conditions, ranging from depleted soils, ageing orchards, lack of improved planting material, emerging pests and diseases, and climate change. Young people, especially educated ones, were opting out of cocoa farming in their numbers.
Low cocoa productivity and an ageing labour force is bad news for Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s leading cocoa producer (contributing 40% of the world total), but also for the world. Especially considering the increase in demand for chocolate on the global market, some 1 million extra tonnes by 2020.
The Vision for Change project is seeking to raise cocoa production to meet this demand in a sustainable way. Invigorating cocoa communities will make cocoa sustainable and profitable for farmers. The programme is currently working with 10,000 farmers, and plans to reach 150,000 by 2020. The project is looking to improve nutrition and diversify household incomes.
“There has been a disturbing overlap of severe undernutrition and major cocoa producing regions,” said Kouame. “In the South West and Central West provinces, nearly a third of the children are stunted. This is a paradox, considering that cocoa is called the ‘food of the gods’, said Kouamé. “To solve the malnutrition problem we have to empower the women to produce local food on farms.” Project partners are finding that bananas are popular trees for cocoa agroforestry, and are working to strengthen women’s organizations with the special skills they need to run nurseries with improved, high-yielding cultivars.
See related article: Using bananas to fight gender imbalances on cocoa plantations
Highly nutritious indigenous fruit trees are also being integrated into cocoa orchards. Trees such as bush mango (Irvingia gabonensis) and African plum (Dacryodes edulis) are profitable propositions. According to ICRAF Senior Scientist Zac Tchoundjeu, who spoke at same event, indigenous fruit trees, properly grown and managed, can “cut the chain of poverty and transform lives in Africa.”
“We want to see more schools – so children can invest in cocoa later on,” said Kouamé; Education is another focus of Vision for Change.
Project partners recently opened a state-of-the-art laboratory in Cote d’ Ivoire. Here, under the leadership of Dr. Jane Kahia, tissue culture technology for cocoa is being developed. This will allow large numbers of uniform, high yielding and disease-free seedlings to be produced for wide distribution to farmers.
Through technological and other innovations in a complex socioeconomic milieu, the Vision for Change project is building sustainability and profitability into cocoa farming. This is critically important to the 6 million-odd households in Cote d’Ivoire who depend on cocoa farming.
What’s more, it directly benefits the continued supply of the world’s favourite treat—chocolate.
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