Transforming cocoa with seedlings and services for farmers
Clutching her certificate, Hélène Kla Amenan was all smiles at her graduation ceremony on 23 May 2014. After a seven-week intensive training, Hélène was now equipped with the skills to set up a Cocoa Village Centre in her village. Here, she will offer cocoa farmers the services, advice and products they need to rejuvenate their farms for better and more sustainable productivity.
Hélène and the 52 other youthful graduates will run their village centres as independent businesses, but will be supported closely by the Vision for Change (V4C) project. This public-private partnership funded by Mars Chocolate is implemented in Côte d’Ivoire by World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) with national partners, and brings farmers together with services, products and know-how to boost cocoa yields and build sustainable cocoa communities. By 2020 the project aims to reach 100,000 cocoa producers in Soubré, one of the highest cocoa-producing areas of the country.
Joel Yao Kouadio, 30, was among the graduates of the recent training. Joel runs his Cocoa Village Centre business out of an old shipping container in the village of Petit Bondoukou in Soubré. He offers farmers grafting services with high-yielding cocoa clones, seedlings of a superior hybrid, and advice on caring for the cocoa farm. Joel also sells pesticides and subsidized fertilizers, and advises farmers on their use. One year on, his business is doing well.
“The project is not forcing farmers to follow a particular technology; they can choose one, or several,” clarifies Joel.
One of his customers has chosen seedlings.Teia Kouame Parfait’s family recently bought a truckload of seedlings of the improved ‘Mercedes’ variety, at 150 CFA each. This is a premier, high-yielding cocoa cultivar developed by Centre National de Recherche Agronomique (CNRA), Côte d’Ivoire’s agricultural research organization.
Cocoa Village Centres (CVCs) and Cocoa Development Centres (CDCs)
Joel was initially trained in the various technologies he offers at his CVC by the Germain Yao, the field technician responsible for the V4C Cocoa Development Centre (CDC) in Petit Bondoukou. Germain acknowledges project partner CNRA’s contribution to the demonstration trials’ successes.
“These are all CNRA varieties. Here we multiply and make them available to farmers,” said Germain.
In the first phase of the project, 2010 to 2013, sixteen CDCs were set up by the project to demonstrate, on farmers’ fields, various recommended technologies for cocoa rehabilitation.The results of these demonstrations have been nothing short of dramatic. Particularly impressive are grafted trees; within 12 months of grafting, new stems on old cocoa trees are producing large, healthy pods. ‘Total replanting’ trials established in 2010 now boast young trees with bright green leaves and characteristic auburn tops, their branches heavy with fruit. Good agricultural practices on old farms are paying off too, with visible improvements to cocoa production.
Cocoa, like coffee, does best when grown with certain ‘companion trees’: shade trees, for instance, which protect cocoa trees from the scorching sun, and boundary trees that can shield against disease transmission. These are also being multiplied at the various CDCs. Coffee, frake (Terminalia superba), framire (Terminalia ivorensis), as well as food- and income-generating trees like banana, are priority.
At the main V4C project site in Soubre, a clonal garden of elite CNRA cocoa varieties and a 65,000-seedling nursery are being established, to ensure a consistent supply of seedlings and grafting buds and branches.
“Good planting material is the backbone of any agricultural sector, and one of our most important priorities is to make the best varieties easily accessible to farmers,” said ICRAF senior scientist and V4C project director, Christophe Kouamé.
He added that in Côte d’Ivoire, ageing trees, poor farm management, and a lack of high-quality planting material and services for farmers have contributed to falling yields over the last decade. The project’s work aims to help farmers raise their cocoa yields from the current 400 kg per hectare to around 1500 kg per hectare annually.
Sustainably boosting production in Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s leading cocoa producer, could help avert the projected global cocoa bean shortage of a million tons by 2020.
Through their role of uniting farmers with better with seedlings and services, the 53 new CVC operators will be front and centre of this effort to raise cocoa productivity. Many more trainings are planned of CVC operators so the region is covered.
Awarding the training certificates, the Governor of Soubre Mr Ali Ali Kouadio encouraged the 51 men and 2 women to be determined and work hard.
“You are the very first Cocoa Village Centre operators to be sent to field. You shall succeed,” he told the young entrepreneurs.
Blog written with inputs from Claude Adjehi, V4C Project Communications Officer
 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.