Bridging the Science-Industry Gap to Help Cocoa Farmers Adapt & Thrive

  • Sustainability, cocoa sustainability, sustainable cocoa, why is sustainability important, sustainability defined, sustainability movement, cocoa plant, cocoa bean, cacao, raw cacao, deforestation, what is deforestation

    Author Stephanie Daniels

    Senior Program Director Agriculture & Development
    Sustainable Food Lab
  • Author Sander Muilerman

    West Africa Program Manager, Climate Smart Cocoa and Cocoa & Forests Initiative
    World Cocoa Foundation
  • Author Asya Troychansky

    The Sustainable Food Lab

As the prognosis for climate change worsens – with a new UN report calling for immediate global action to avoid catastrophe – the cocoa sector has an unprecedented opportunity to help cocoa farmers to adapt and thrive.

Already, cocoa and chocolate companies are supporting farmers to adopt good agronomic practices that improve their productivity and resilience. The industry and the governments of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Colombia have entered into an ambitious commitment to eliminate deforestation from the cocoa value chain through the Cocoa & Forests Initiative. To sharpen climate smart cocoa efforts, companies need cutting-edge scientific data that show in detail the projected consequences of climate change in various production regions. The sector also needs practical recommendations about which investments will have the most impact on sustaining cocoa production, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards.

The CGIAR (Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) global research program known as CCAFS (Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security Program) leads a broad consortium focusing on mainstreaming climate smart value chains. Its partners include WCF’s Feed the Future Partnership for Climate Smart Cocoa (CSC) program in West Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean. The CCAFS consortium – CIAT, IITA, Rainforest Alliance, Root Capital, and the Sustainable Food Lab – aims to bridge the science-industry gap, and specifically to link companies with the science and guidance they need to move forward in promoting climate change adaptation.

Following a round of consultations with cocoa companies, civil society and West African governments, the CCAFS consortium produced two key decision-making tools to focus CSC investments: (1) climate suitability maps, and (2) geographically specific recommendations of climate smart practices, captured in a training manual launched in early 2018 by the Rainforest Alliance and WCF, in collaboration with the Ghana Cocoa Board and other experts.

The Climate Smart Cocoa manual takes a ground-breaking approach by tailoring practices to the specific climate-related risks of different zones:

  • Cope (lowest vulnerability – minor adaptation necessary)
  • Adjust (moderate vulnerability – significant adaptation necessary)
  • Transform (high vulnerability – need to transition to other crops)

Recommendations also differ by farmer, following a ‘stepwise investment pathway’. Farmers are encouraged to adopt a minimum set of practices depending on the climate change impact in their location. As their resources and abilities grow, farmers can choose to take on further “bronze”, “silver”, or “gold” investments to improve their farms’ productivity and resilience to climate change risks. These more advanced sets of practices are clearly described in the Climate Smart Cocoa manual.

Just six months after the manual’s release, companies’ efforts to apply recommendations are well underway in Ghana. Ecom and Touton have been retooling their training curricula to provide site-specific recommendations that factor in climate zones’ unique assets and vulnerabilities. Both companies are also conducting trials on demonstration plots so that farmers can see for themselves the effectiveness of improved practices. The Hershey Company has incorporated the recommendations into its CocoaLink app, so that farmers in ‘Adjust’ zones, for instance, will now receive distinct tips from farmers in ‘Cope’ and ‘Transform’ zones.

A second CSC manual is being developed in Côte d’Ivoire by UTZ/Rainforest Alliance and WCF. Under the Cocoa & Forests Initiative, several companies are including CSC activities in their company action plans. The process of consultation with scientists and researchers has spawned other lines of collaboration on top of the CSC manual. In one of the early consortium meetings, companies described that farmers had been resistant to planting shade trees due to their enduring perception, derived from older laws, that they had no secure ownership of those trees. Farmers also did not understand the process for registering shade trees with the Forestry Commission. This spurred CCAFS members to action. WCF, Sustainable Food Lab, AgroEco, and Meridia launched a pilot project that resulted in the successful registration of 150 farmers’ shade trees, as well as a manual that documents how to digitally register trees with appropriate governmental authorities. Several companies are now exploring how to integrate tree planting and tree tenure at scale into their programs.

Download Material

  • Tree Registration Field Guide

What comes next for the Climate Smart Cocoa collaboration? Companies are encouraged by deeper public-private collaboration, particularly to align:

The need and opportunity for industry, scientists, and government to work towards common goals is greater than ever, and the CCAFS consortium, WCF, cocoa companies and partners are committed to coming together to make cocoa a viable option for the next generation of farmers.