When we met Kouakou, 63, on his farm, he proudly shared that he had been involved in a project which “changed the way [he] produces cocoa”. This project, part of the Cocoa & Forests Initiative, seeks to support farmers like Kouakou to plant trees in medium-density agroforestry where 20 to 25 timber, pharmacopoeia and fruit trees are planted per hectare.
Why medium-density agroforestry? Because it is more accessible to farmers and is a first step towards the more complex high-density systems requiring 100 trees or more per hectare. Moreover, medium-density agroforestry can build on the solid foundations provided by the low-density agroforestry required as part of Rainforest Alliance certification (with a minimum of 16 trees per hectare). By increasing the number of trees per hectare, medium-density agroforestry accelerates the impact.
By the end of the 2020/2021 season, 1,593 cocoa farmers were participating in the project. A total of nearly 22,500 tree seedlings were planted on more than 1,100 farms.
The project also seeks to reduce the risk of deforestation by providing farmers with land certificates and financial incentives in the form of Payments for Environmental Services (PES). This motivates farmers like Kouakou to look after the trees and achieve high tree survival rates. The first round of PES payments took place in February 2022, helping farming families diversify their incomes. Crucially, the project strives to sensitize farmers on the benefits of agroforestry over the long-term with training sessions held on demonstration plots to showcase good practices and encourage hands-on learning.
“I will practice what I’ve learned long after this project is over’,” concluded Kouakou.