Cocoa (Theobroma cacao L) – the main ingredient of that delectable global favorite chocolate – has been the backbone of the economies of the four West Africa countries, Côte D’Ivoire, Cameroon, Ghana, and Nigeria, which together account for about 70% of the world’s total cocoa production. This top production position comes at a steep environmental price to these countries as the main mode of cultivation has been by continuous expansion into pristine forest areas in a situation called “forest rent” in which cocoa farmers cultivate newly opened, nutrient-rich forest soil as a means of reducing production costs in terms of fertilizer and agrochemical inputs. This practice has led to widespread reductions in forest cover in these countries and has had a negative impact on the environment.
For years, stakeholders in the cocoa industry in West Africa have been trying different approaches to influence, if not change, cocoa farmers’ “forest rent” practice to reduce the impact of related activities on the environment. In an effort to contribute to this cause in Ghana, IITA with the Grameen Foundation and SNV revitalized a 100,000-member cocoa cooperative called Kuapa Kokoo under the Humidtropics’ Cocoa-Eco project by building a real-time online agricultural information and communication technology (ICT) system (http://humidtropics.iita.org/share/s/XQl33lI4RGyv2deQKdBgag), thereby strengthening the group’s monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system.
With the always-available agricultural information made possible by this ICT system, the project was also able to strengthen the capacity of Kuapa Kokoo in helping its farmer-members modernize their cocoa farming for sustainable production through the concept of ‘entrepreneurship’. Here, the cocoa farmer is taught to be an entrepreneur and an ecosystem manager and much more than just the ‘owner’ of the farm, thereby placing farming as a modern business venture instead of a passive activity. For a cooperative such as Kuapa Kokoo, it was vital to develop this perspective with the farmers for long-term buy-in. Modernizing the outlook about cocoa farming as a business also helps to erase the common image that cocoa cultivation is for old people—an attitude that ignores the vast opportunities of the sector.
To achieve this, the Cocoa-Eco project has developed and implemented participatory brokerage systems for improved planting materials and guaranteed on-time delivery of unsubsidized fertilizers to entrepreneurial members as well as providers of pest and disease management services. It is envisaged that this will help farmers to identify their needs and service providers for these needs to engender service on request for assistance rather than doing things according to traditional beliefs. The project has also developed information and decision tools to guide farmers in sustainable cocoa farming, the first of its kind for cocoa in West Africa(http://humidtropics.iita.org/share/s/fHA2WQjDR6CCeMViTpy1iA ).Similarly, Cocoa-Eco also introduced a smartphone-based ‘last-mile extension’ within the cooperative. This technology is essentially an offline mini encyclopedia on the latest cocoa extension knowledge on cocoa rehabilitation and new establishment (PRD). This provides information on practical and sustainable cocoa production techniques that take into account farmers’ current situation, selecting suitable sites for cultivation, sources of improved planting materials and other agro-inputs, field preparation and farm management techniques, and options for tree diversification (http://humidtropics.iita.org/share/s/atiHCVRgTdmsjATEmp_KAg). This low-cost innovation has been enthusiastically received by members of Kuapa Kokoo and is also being adopted by other cocoa rehabilitation projects across West Africa, especially in Ghana and Cameroon.
A study conducted in Ghana looking at the adoption of this technique showed that, on average, 80% of farmers that had been trained on this technology had a cocoa seedling establishment rate of 80% over a two year dry period, regardless of the planting location. The study also showed no significant difference in rates of cocoa establishment in different land types. This supports the argument that new cocoa plantations have equal or even better chances of establishment through land recycling than through planting in newly opened forest lands.