At the Nestlé demo plot in Côte d'Ivoire, local cocoa farmers come to learn best practices and see real-world impact on productivity. In the middle of the cocoa field, there is a tree with a trunk at least ten times as thick as the others around it. It disappears up through the cocoa trees' low canopy, its higher reaches invisible from the ground.
These taller trees not only provide shade for the cocoa field below, but also boost biodiversity which benefits the entire ecosystem, including soil health. As they are often fruit trees, they can provide cocoa farmers with opportunity for additional sources of income and nutrition.
Abdoulaye Sankara is a 58-year old cocoa farmer from the SOCOOPAM cooperative. A father of nine children, he has a successful four-hectare cocoa farm. Even before the agroforestry program began, he had started intercropping his cocoa field with fruit and forest trees. Now, as well as tending his own crop, he helps other cocoa farmers to understand the longer-term value of sacrificing precious space that could otherwise be planted with more cocoa trees.
He explains, “I could see that my cocoa trees were thirsty. If there are no tall trees, there is no rainfall, and the sun shines too
harshly on the cocoa. So, on my parcel of four hectares I planted 70 trees – forest trees, fruit trees, all kinds of things. I think it has really helped the development of my fields.” Walking through his farm, he gesticulates towards a healthy young tree. “Over there, that’s a three-year-old iroko tree and already it’s taller than a full-grown cocoa tree. The cocoa trees underneath can live a peaceful life.
Now, other farmers come to see me and find out what I’m doing. They have seen that my farm is doing well, and how important trees are.”
Abdoulaye’s experience is echoed by that of Dominic Odura, a 47-year old cocoa farmer from the Ashanti region of Ghana.
“Though I have been a farmer for some years now, my knowledge of the role played by trees in a cocoa farm has increased tremendously. I received 42 trees under the CFI initative, and I also got training and field visits to help plant the trees on my farm.
We were told that trees give life to our cocoa trees, just like humans. I believe it now. The results are clear for all to see.”
Though not yet widely used, agroforestry is perceived as being vital for the long-term sustainability of cocoa – to the extent that
the Nestlé Cocoa Plan is distributing 2.8 million plantlets over the next four years across Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Together, at the Rainforest Alliance standard density of 18 trees per hectare, the trees would cover an area around the size of Greater London (approximately 156 000 hectares).