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Côte d’Ivoire: Farmers adopt new techniques to increase cocoa production in the face of climate change

It’s Sunday evening and the sun is beginning to set. Patrice Assalé is a cocoa farmer from Apprompronou, in the department of Abengourou, who is returning home from his one-and-a-half-hectare cocoa plantation. Mr. Assalé used to maintain an eight-hectare cocoa plantation with an estimated yield of 500 kg per hectare. But his yield has declined due to the scarcity of rains, one of the effects of climate change.

Two years ago, he decided to try new production techniques to adapt to climate change. Thanks to these new practices, Mr. Assalé increased his yield despite the scarcity of rains. He can now harvest up to 1.5 tonnes of cocoa per hectare.

He explains: “I operated an eight-hectare cocoa plantation. My cocoa plants were dying from the heat and the lack of rains. I had to give up and turn to rubber cultivation. When I had some money, I came back in 2010 to be trained on innovative approaches to cocoa production before resuming.”

In recent years, climate change has resulted in an increase in heat and a scarcity of rain in Côte      d’Ivoire. This can kill cocoa plants or reduce production. To help farmers find solutions, the National Rural Development Support Agency trains cocoa farmers on good cultivation practices such as agroforestry, using biochar, digging deeper planting holes, and watering young trees.     

Hortense Koffi is a cocoa producer in Djangobo in the department of Abengourou who practices agroforestry. She plants local trees such as fraké (also called black limba, or Terminalia superba), kola, avocado, apki (also called Ricinodendron heudelotti), and plantain in the cocoa plantation. These trees provide shade to protect cocoa from the sun — and also produce fruit themselves.

Mrs. Koffi’s production and income has improved thanks to this new practice. While waiting to harvest her first cocoa pods, she can sell her plantains in a local market. Later, she can harvest her cocoa, unharmed by direct sun. The income from these crops, added to her husband’s income, means that her family enjoys an improved standard of living.

Daniel N’gotta lives in San Pedro, near an important cocoa export port in southwest Côte d’Ivoire. His plantation is not producing well because of the late rains and the sea breeze. To improve his yields, Mr. N’gotta now uses best practices shared by World Agroforestry, including digging deeper planting holes and watering young trees.

He explains: “I practice a new digging technique. Now I dig a hole 40 cm deep to plant the young cocoa plants, where I previously dug just 10 to 25 cm. I also lay perforated pipes alongside cocoa tree nurseries to water the trees for at least two years. Before, after putting the nursery in the ground, I waited for the rain to promote rooting. Finally, I use biochar as an organic fertilizer for my cocoa trees.”

Mr. N’gotta says the biochar replaces chemical fertilizers and promotes growth by maintaining good conditions in the soil around the young cocoa trees.

Biochar is a biological amendment. Alban Kacou M’bo is a researcher in plant ecophysiology at World Agroforestry. He explains that making biochar involves burning dried cocoa shells. The powder obtained from the burn is mixed with fermented poultry manure. This mixture is incorporated with soil as an organic fertilizer. Fermentation of the manure is an important step. Without it, the acidity of the manure can destroy the plants.

Mr. M’bo says that, until May, very little rain had fallen in Côte d’Ivoire during 2021, causing major delays for farmers. He explains that agroforestry, using biochar, digging deeper planting holes, and watering young trees helps cocoa farmers achieve good yields despite drought and unpredictable rains. These practices are well-adapted to the local context because many of the materials they require are within easy reach of farmers. However, it should be noted that many farmers cite lack of time as a barrier to implementing the practices.

Mr. N’gotta says that farmers who follow these new practices are seeing great results. He adds: “With the good results, I wish to be an ambassador of the Ivorian cocoa farming project.”

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: “Dried cocoa beans in farmers hand” by Nestlé, 2009. Sourced via Creative Commons.