Euredd- One seedling at a time. How Ivorian smallholder cocoa farmers are restoring lost tree cover
When a major drought hit the South-West of Côte d’Ivoire in 2015, much of the expected harvest of the country’s main commodity — cocoa — was lost and the livelihoods of thousands of smallholder farmers were jeopardised. “I nearly lost my entire cocoa plantation, except for in the areas where I had large trees,” says Kouassi Akoura Apolinaire Yao, a young farmer who manages a two-hectare plantation near Méagui, 400 km west of the capital Abidjan. “It was these trees’ shade that saved the cocoa plants.”
His experience is echoed by that of many other smallholders in the area. But not everyone could count on trees to save their harvests — Côte d'Ivoire’s deforestation rate is one of the world’s highest and cocoa production is largely to blame. And the loss of tree cover doesn’t only make cocoa yields more vulnerable to drought. “We, the women, don’t find enough fire wood to cook meals with,” says Amoin Sahoure, who lives in the village of Assawlèkro.
So, when a project proposed in 2017 to reward cocoa farmers and communities for engaging in agroforestry, reforestation and conservation, the farmers were keen to listen. The project is a partnership between the Ivorian Government and Mondelēz International, one of the world’s largest chocolate producers. It is being implemented by a nongovernmental organisation called Impactum.
“When Impactum came to talk to us about the tree project, we realised that this could be the solution for overcoming our difficulties”, says Aya Odette Brou, from Pogréagui village, 15 km north of Méagui. The project is an example of a ‘payments for environmental services’ (PES) scheme. It was initiated, with the support of the EU REDD Facility, in the context of growing global efforts to stop and reverse deforestation. It is planting seeds of hope among the plantations that now dominate this hot and heavily-deforested landscape in the middle of Côte d'Ivoire’s ‘cocoa belt’