In between Côte d’Ivoire’s Tai National Park and neighboring Grebo-Krahn National Park in Liberia, Ekra Yao Blaise and 76 other farmers are part of the Hana River Project, working to create a 20-meter natural barrier between their cocoa farms and the winding river.
The Hana River project is implemented by a cocoa company in partnership with the German government as part of the Cocoa & Forests Initiative. The natural barrier that farmers are working to create is providing a refuge for insects, snakes, mammals and birds such as forest antelopes, green mambas, lesser spot-nosed monkeys and Diana monkeys. Some of these species are considered vulnerable and regularly cross from one park to the other, fostering biodiversity and the regeneration of natural ecosystems.
“The area left for natural generation is very beneficial,” says Blaise Ekra Yao. “We find many of our medicinal plants there. It also forms a natural barrier between the river and our playing children when we are working on our farms.”
In return for protecting natural forest areas and reforesting degraded areas, Blaise and the other farmers in the project receive training on agricultural practices and agroforestry, as well as in-kind compensation in the form of fertilizers and seedlings. This is an approach known as payment for environmental services.
“Agroforestry has an especially positive influence when there is a lot of sun,” Blaise explains. “I can see that the cocoa trees that are growing in the shade are suffering less from the sun compared to cocoa trees that are directly exposed. I have been planting the trees that are given to me; last year we received marcoré and fraké, and the year before Aakpi and acacia magnium.”
Blaise says the project is very welcome in the area. The fertilizer packages have helped to get his cocoa farm in great shape, increasing his cocoa production while leaving the 20-meter barrier along the river untouched.