Côte d’Ivoire: Cocoa farmers plant shade trees to adapt to climate change

| May 24, 2021

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Cocoa is a major crop in Cote d’Ivoire, but many farmers have moved away from growing cocoa after poor harvests. But in Yamoussoukro, Souleymane Bamba is still growing cocoa trees, as well as bananas and other trees which provide shade to protect cocoa trees from the sun. To find shade trees, farmers can forage for them, grow them in improved fallows, or purchase them from nurseries. But it’s best if they plant economically valuable trees that bear fruit or nuts that can be sold. Mr. Bamba says the shade trees now allow him to harvest one tonne of cocoa beans on each hectare of his land.

The sun is already high in the sky and burning fiercely. Cocoa farmer Souleymane Bamba is in his field in Yamoussoukro, in south-central Côte d’Ivoire, 200 kilometres from Abidjan. Mr. Bamba’s two-and-a-half hectare field yields between 350 and 400 kg of cocoa beans per hectare.

Mr. Bamba recently adopted new practices, including planting shade trees, which increase production and make him and other cocoa farmers more resilient to climate change.

He explains: “I have started to strengthen my plantation with trees and bananas to protect the cocoa trees from the sun. This allowed me to increase the production of my cocoa trees. Per hectare, I can now harvest one tonne of cocoa beans.”  

Many cocoa producers are planting trees under the supervision of trainers from the National Rural Development Support Agency. There are a few methods of finding shade trees. Farmers can search the bush for seedlings to reforest in cultivated areas, although they must avoid planting the “fromager” or kapok tree. The alternative is to buy seedlings from a nursery. Depending on how much forest cover has been lost, farmers plant between 18 and 60 trees per hectare.

Planters are advised to choose economically valuable species such as the apki (Ricinodendron africanum), the small colatier (Garnica kola), and the boubourou. These bear fruits that contain seeds which are sold for use in sauces. Fruits of the small colatier are sold as an aphrodisiac.

Mr. Bamba is also the president of a regional co-operative known as SocooparLacs. This co-operative has nearly 300 members, including 106 women, who pool the proceeds from their sales and learn new methods of producing cocoa.

Recently, producers have been grappling with the effects of climate change. Production has dropped and some have abandoned their plantations for other activities. They were unaware that deforestation from land clearing for cocoa plantations was partly to blame for the poor yields. 

Thanks to their awareness of new production practices, cocoa farmers have started to change their habits. Two of the most important new practices involves providing shade for cocoa trees and leaving fields fallow.

Fallowing consists of letting cultivated areas rest for a few years or more. This allows vegetation and soil fertility to recover.

Emerson Gueye is the administrator of a cocoa production co-operative called Ecooya. This co-operative has about 800 hectares of land. Mr. Gueye says that, after fallowing since 2013, his yield increased from 400 kilograms per hectare to 600.

He adds: “In our areas, with the decline in productivity, we are implementing good agricultural practices to increase production without affecting the forest cover. We use fallow land so that we don’t enlarge the fields.”

Far from Abidjan, Alida Coulibaly is a 35-year-old farmer who is president of RASSO, a co-operative named after a protected forest area in the region. She received her Master’s degree in Management Studies, then turned to cocoa farming. After a bitter experience, she has also started using shade trees on her three-hectare plantation.

She explains:“I was a victim of global warming. I received beans [of a cocoa variety] known as Mercedes, because of their speed in germinating, developing, and producing in six months. [But] They burned because of the sun. They are not heat-resistant. We were not informed about shade trees.”

Now, Mrs. Coulibaly and her collaborators plant shade trees in the field to protect the cocoa trees from the sun. She explains, “We planted more banana trees. The farmers are trained and plant more trees and banana trees in the old and new plantations.”

Yao Fernand Konan is a technical advisor at the Centre for Green Innovations in the Agro-Food Sector at GIZ, a German development organization. He advises producers to adopt various approaches in order to cope with climate change. One important approach is to cultivate shade trees by enabling selected trees to grow on an “improved” fallow. Farmers can also plant banana trees to provide shade for cocoa plants.

Farmers are also advised to improve their soil and avoid using herbicides. Using organic inputs can have better results, including cover crops that add nitrogen to the soil. Examples of such cover crops include legumes like groundnuts, beans, and cowpeas, and trees such as Acacia mangium and Gliricidia sepium.

These new farming practices can help cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire to continue producing cocoa beans, despite the effects of climate change.

This resource was supported with the aid of a grant from The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) implementing the Green Innovation Centre project.

Photo credit: Jesse Winter, 2009.