In Côte d’Ivoire, PES project protects river and restores biodiversity on cocoa land
Agroforestry and pygmy hippos rarely go together but are tightly entwined along the Hana River in southwest Côte d’Ivoire. For the last two years, a payment for ecosystem services project funded by the German government has incentivized cocoa farmers to desist from cultivating the banks of a 25 km stretch that flows between the Taï National Park in Cote d’Ivoire and the Grebo National Park in Liberia.
“We want to preserve biodiversity,” explains Bene Kouadio, research operations manager for the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) in Côte d’Ivoire. “We are teaching cocoa producers good agricultural practices so that they respect the zone tampon”. This zone is a 15-25 m riparian buffer that farmers allow to revert to forest. In return, ICRAF and partners help farmers increase yields elsewhere on their land.
In a region where rainfall can reach 2000 mm a year, trees, shrubs and forbs regenerate fast. Among the new growth, severely endangered small hippos and primates as well as antelopes and other animals can move in relative safety, sometimes as far as between the two parks, breeding populations linked. Before the Ebola epidemic, they were hunted for meat. Farmers still kill chimps that raid cocoa.
Project farmer Ahmadou Ouattara, 46, has forfeited growing rice and vegetables on his riverine strip. Today the banks are thick matted bush. He recognizes its value. “We want forest along the river for the sake of the water. So it is clean and not spoilt,” he explains. Besides water, the river is a vital source of fish, many species of which spawn in tree shade and among the submerged tree roots.
Ouattara has been rewarded by intense support from ICRAF, which leads the project, and its partners. He stands in disbelief with his son next to a cocoa tree laden with pods. The project has raised the yield from some of his cocoa trees from just 2-3 pods to over 20. The key has been good husbandry such as careful application of fertilizer and pruning, which reduces humidity and therefore pests and disease.
One third of the cocoa farmers in Cote d’Ivoire are from neighboring Burkina Faso and over half are illiterate. This is the profile of Ouattara who, although a domicile of the world’s leading cocoa producing country for over 40 years, was at first wary of the project. “This zone is so remote that the farmers are initially reticent, especially about new technologies for the rural world,” recalls Boni Akpahou Arnaud.
“They also had other fears,” says the ICRAF field manager. “They thought the project would take part of their land for an ecological barrier without compensation. They got frightened. But we explained that the land that will be taken is going to benefit the river and that, since cocoa is treated with chemicals, we need to avoid contaminating the water. They are very intelligent and understood.”
Boni oversees trials on each farmer’s land. “These are people who have not been to school and have to see to believe – voire pour croire. So we have a way to carry them along. We divide their fields into parts. On one part, they do things as they have always done. On other parts, we have all the innovative technologies. They make the comparison themselves.”
The project is testing six agri-input management schemes for impact on cocoa production and three for biodiversity. The agri-input systems range from the status quo (farmers’ current practices) to “organic cocoa farming” (500g of compost/tree plus organic pesticides plus foliar fertilizer) to “intensive sustainable cocoa farming” (200g chemical fertilizer/tree plus chemical pesticides plus organic foliar fertilizer).
The cost per farmer – fertilizer, improved planting material, training, follow-up, data collection and analysis – is not small, but is compensated by ecological benefits. The project also supports women’s group BINKADI in a panoply of food security and income generating activities, including producing shade tree seedlings. Soon diverse trees will fill gaps among the cocoa, creating multistrata agroforestry.
Other project partners are Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the Office Ivoirien des Parcs et Réserves, Wild Chimpanzee Foundation and Dutch cocoa trading company Cocoanect. Andre van den Beld, Cocoanect’s sustainability officer, initiated the project and connected stakeholders. “The project brings much needed focus onto the environment,” says the manager.
In Côte d’Ivoire, cocoa has contributed to Africa’s highest rate of deforestation. Just 2 per cent of primary forests remain, and only 27.5 per cent of cocoa is grown in medium to dense shade. Furthermore, the criteria for certified cocoa have grown weaker: one major certifier has dropped the shade tree requirement from 84 trees per hectare (the standard in Latin America) to just 12.
“The industry tends to overlook the opportunities of higher shade tree densities, and climate change receives little attention in the larger cocoa sustainability programs,” says van den Beld. “We monitor biodiversity indicators to measure ecosystem health. With the Swiss Centre of Research, we identified 34 species of frogs. Amphibians are particularly sensitive to change. The results of a flora diversity survey will follow soon.”
It is already clear that biodiversity has suffered a blow. In 2015, Ivorian, Swiss, and American scientists found a virtual “extirpation” or local extinction of primates; 13 of 23 protected areas surveyed had lost all primate populations and four taxa of Colobus monkeys were not found in any of the protected areas. A significant positive correlation existed between cocoa farming and the absence of primate species.
However, the first phase of the BMZ-funded project gives hope. “We’re learning again that cocoa farmers are very responsive to biodiversity conservation when you give them options of environment-friendly practices” says Christophe Kouamé, the principal investigator and ICRAF senior scientist in Côte d’Ivoire. Damaged ecosystems can be restored while improving livelihoods from cocoa.
With plans to reach at least 1000 farmers with a capacity of 1300 Mt of cocoa with a financially healthy PES system, the project is entitled Innovations for sustainable cocoa production and biodiversity conservation in the Hana River region in Côte d’Ivoire.