Public–private–people partnership for cocoa and forests in Côte d’Ivoire

By World Agroforestry West Africa

Zero deforestation, improved livelihoods and business prospects and a restored environment are underway in the African nation through a successful partnership of government, private business, researchers and communities.

For decades, Côte d’Ivoire has been the world’s largest producer and exporter of cocoa. Its homegrown ‘brown gold’ accounts for almost 40% of world production.

The coffee and cocoa sector plays an essential economic role in Côte d’Ivoire, contributing 14% of GDP and 38% of export earnings in 2015 (data from Ministère auprès du Premier Ministre, Chargé de l’Economie et des Finances ; Direction Générale de l’Economie; Direction de la Conjoncture et de la Prévision Economique). Most of the production comes from nearly 1.5 million hectares of small, family-run plantations.

And yet the story of cocoa in Côte d’Ivoire is apparently not one destined for a happy end, unless something changes soon.

Production is increasingly constrained by aging trees that have not benefited from breeding improvements and are now bearing even lower yields, standing in fields that are showing a progressive degradation of soil, suffering the impact of changing local micro-climates and freshly threatened by a breakout of a killer ‘swollen shoot’ disease.

It is no wonder that the cocoa sector is a major cause of national concern just on account of its falling productivity. Add to this that failing nutrients in soils and inappropriate or inadequate use of fertilizers make the trees more susceptible diseases, further depleting soils and heaping more misery on farmers.

Step back from the cocoa farms and it is only too apparent that the industry as a whole also generates a number of grave negative externalities. It is the prime driver of deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire, which has led to dramatic changes in ecology, biodiversity and systemic resilience of the coastal ecosystems of this formerly tree-rich nation.

Cocoa and deforestation

Côte d’Ivoire is aware of all this of course. The Government has sought to steer the country away from its previous development model that was based on expansion of agriculture at the cost of forests, which led to massive deforestation.

Since September 2014, the Government has committed to a transition to zero-deforestation agriculture. This concept has been explained in a policy guidance note — Zero-Deforestation Agriculture in Côte d’Ivoire — presented jointly by the ministries of Agriculture, Environment and Water and Forestry at the Twenty-First Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. An element of the guidance is the National Strategy to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.

Cocoa is a major driver of deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire. Photo: World Agroforestry

Côte d’Ivoire’s new forest policy, approved in May 2018, is an honest acknowledgment of this rather bleak situation: the world’s leading cocoa producer has accepted that it has witnessed a drastic reduction in its forest cover, essentially due to unregulated and uncontrolled exploitation.

Current estimates show that Côte d’Ivoire has only about 3.7 million hectares of forest left from the over 15 million counted in 1960. Another 300,000 hectares of forest are lost every year to cocoa and shifting agriculture. In 2015, a Bureau National d’Études Techniques et de Développement REDD+ study concluded that cocoa production accounted for 60% to 80% of this deforestation.

In an attempt to change this trajectory, the forests policy aims to ‘preserve biodiversity, the maintenance of an enabling environment for the development of socio-economic and agricultural activities, and the respect of Côte d’Ivoire’s international commitments’ and plans to rely on public–private partnerships to finance its implementation.

International concerns and business reaction

The parlous state of affairs has rightly attracted international concern. A number of international campaigning groups and NGOs, including WWF, Mighty Earth and Greenpeace, have repeatedly pointed out the problems of the sector in Côte d’Ivoire. Their aim is one shared by the Government: to stop the degradation of more forests in order to produce cocoa in Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere.

Business is reacting to the pressure. In 2017, confectioners, such as Nestlé, Mars, Mondelez, Ferrero, Hershey, Barry Callebaut, and cocoa traders, such as Cargill and Olam, reached an agreement with Greenpeace, other NGOs and the governments of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway and the UK on a deforestation framework organised by Prince Charles’ International Sustainability Unit, the World Cocoa Foundation and IDH the sustainable trade initiative.

How is World Agroforestry helping?

World Agroforestry has been working on improving the production and sustainability of cocoa in Côte d’Ivoire since 2010 and has shared its experience and insights with the Government on a range of issues linked to deforestation and forest restoration.

We welcome the Government’s decision to recognise the urgent need to address deforestation to protect the remaining forests and to restore degraded ones. The solution, we suggest, lies in a transformation of practice and policy in the cocoa and forestry sectors.

Director-General Tony Simons of World Agroforestry is on record in meetings with senior Government officials, stating that ‘deforestation will not be solved without addressing a number of inter-linked challenges through integrated land-use management and improved social cohesion. This approach aligns with national development and would deliver a lasting and productive rural transformation’.

These concepts were detailed in late 2017 in a guidance note produced at the Prime Minister’s request: Deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire: Ideas and Suggestions Presented by World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) to the Prime Minister’s Office in Support of National Efforts to Address Deforestation from Multiple Perspectives.

Much of World Agroforestry’s work in the cocoa sector has been carried out in close partnership with Mars Inc, a company that in 2009 committed to only buy certified cocoa by 2020; and is the only large confectioner to work with all three major certification organizations: UTZ, Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade International.

Our collaboration with Mars Inc on the transformation of the sector is expressed in the Vision For Change project, a Mars-funded initiative implemented by World Agroforestry. Vision For Change helps cocoa producers sustainably boost their productivity and profitability and contributes to the sustainable development of their communities.

The approach pursued by Vision For Change is to focus on the restoration of degraded cocoa orchards. The interventions developed under that project — notably, innovative restoration approaches — are leading to rapid and massive boosts in the productivity of old cocoa stands. The inclusion of shade trees selected for timber, honey and other non-timber forestry products boost farmer incomes and offer a hedge against fluctuating cocoa prices as well as insurance for large expenses such as marriages or funerals. The result of these interventions is to connect what is happening from farmers fields, where productivity is being increased, to what is happening at farm and landscape levels, where a much-needed boost in tree and plant diversity is promising to improve resilience to pests, diseases and the impacts of climate variability. All of this should help to prevent farmers migrating with their cocoa into forests in search of more nutrient rich soils to offset falling production. In other words, this should help to bend the arc of deforestation towards forest landscape restoration, without a decrease in cocoa production.

The transformational potential of these largely biophysical interventions has been shown at convincing scales; the challenge now is to develop ways for small farmers to capture a bigger share of the cocoa value chain. It will take the integration of biophysical, social, tenurial and economic measures to reverse current trends in low productivity and high rates of deforestation, but at World Agroforestry we believe the opportunity for transformative change is finally at hand.

World Agroforestry (ICRAF) is a centre of scientific and development excellence that harnesses the benefits of trees for people and the environment. Knowledge produced by ICRAF enables governments, development agencies and farmers to utilize the power of trees to make farming and livelihoods more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable at multiple scales. ICRAF is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.



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