Côte d’Ivoire: Improving cocoa to cope with extreme weather (Trust)

| June 20, 2016

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Abou Ouattara walks between the cocoa trees on his farm in Ouattaradougou village, 30 kilometres from the country’s commercial capital of Abidjan. He reaches up and picks a ripe yellow cocoa pod from a cluster of green ones.

His crop is looking better this year than in past years.  He says, “Over the years, bad weather has affected the crop.” Mr. Ouattara planted a new variety of cocoa in an effort to adapt to climate change.

When the 52-year-old first planted cocoa trees on his eight-hectare farm 17 years ago, the trees took five years to mature. But a few years ago, he switched to a variety nicknamed “Mercedes cocoa,” which matures in just 18 months.

Cocoa is a key source of income for many small-scale farmers in Côte d’Ivoire, who plant an average of one to three hectares of the crop. But yields have slumped in recent years because of extreme weather, and it is expected that farmers will be further affected by climate change in the coming years.

But cocoa researchers say that farmers can boost production in spite of the rising temperatures if they provide better shade for cocoa trees and use improved varieties. In response, cocoa farmers are planting varieties that are hardier and quicker to mature.

The new Mercedes variety also produces more and better-quality beans, which boosts the income of small producers. In the last five years, Mr. Ouattara has harvested up to seven tonnes annually, but expects up to nine tonnes this year.

Extreme weather, including a prolonged dry season and harsh desert winds, has left other cocoa farmers with beans that are small and very acidic. With the recent heavy rains, farmers are struggling to dry their beans.

Franck Wohe is a quality control expert with the country’s Coffee and Cocoa Council. The council is running a campaign to boost trade by improving the quality of cocoa beans for processing and export. The organization provided the Mercedes variety to small-scale producers.

Mr. Wohe explains: “We started distributing the high-yielding drought-resistant Mercedes variety to help farmers get production fast, within 18 months.” The variety has a rich aroma and is high in fat, which chocolate-makers love.

With the new variety, Mr. Ouattara is confident he can continue to earn a good income from cocoa, despite the unpredictable weather. He says, “Cocoa needs to be tended like a baby until it flowers and matures. After that, you never go for a day without getting something from your cocoa tree.”

To read the full article on which this story is based, ” ‘Mercedes’ cocoa helps Ivorian farmers speed to better harvest,” go to: http://news.trust.org/item/20160614070320-t21eb/?source=hpDontmiss

Photo credit:  TRF/Busani Bafana