The challenge: low yields despite overexploitation
On many farms, cocoa is grown as a monoculture: large fields planted exclusively with cocoa trees. Under these conditions, the plants are less resistant to disease, pests, and climatic changes. In addition, the shade-loving cocoa plants are exposed to the blazing sun and therefore require large amounts of water. This type of farming is unnatural. Monoculture farming depletes the soil. Along with the heavy irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides in high volumes are required to generate strong yields. When forested areas have been cleared by logging, trees must be felled in other areas for firewood and lumber—often unsustainably. The result: this conventional farming method damages the environment and ultimately doesn’t deliver good yields. When a cocoa farm has low yields, neighboring forests are often logged to make way for more cultivation land so that more cocoa can be harvested.
Our approach: promotion of agroforestry
Wild cocoa trees love shady forests and intact ecosystems in which every plant plays an important role: some trees create shade, while others provide valuable fertilizer with their leaves, or their roots loosen the soil. The practice of agroforestry in “multistoried” forests similar to primeval forests, with mutually complementary native plants, has many advantages for cocoa cultivation—including surprisingly high yields. This is because it isn’t only cocoa that is successfully grown in agroforests. Other tree species provide firewood, lumber, and fruit, while vegetables and herbs can be grown using smart crop sequencing.
Tree and plant cuttings serve as fertilizer. Farmers can sell these non-cocoa crops for profit or use them for their own purposes. Because the ecosystem is intact, there are also more pollinating insects, the need for artificial fertilizers and chemical pesticides is reduced, and the healthy soil doesn’t erode and can therefore store water. All of this makes the farm as a whole more resilient against climate change. We promote the transition from cocoa monoculture to agroforestry, particularly through training sessions in the cooperatives and the annual planting of around 5,000 trees. Only farms that pledge not to acquire any additional farmland through forest clearing are accepted into the cocoa commitment sustainability program. This is monitored through visits to the farms, the use of GPS data, and other means.