Ouedrago Salif is one of 13,483 cocoa farmers to have taken part in a Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) training and coaching program run by an NGO in West Africa. It was the first time this husband and father of five from Dah village in Côte d’Ivoire had received any coaching. Ouedrago and his family are already seeing rewards after just one year.
For Ouedrago, “The coaching took place over the course of five months. We were taught how to treat our soils better, work our land, prune, identify whether or not plants were sick, of what disease, and how to treat them.”
The NGO partners with cocoa and chocolate companies. Its program is designed to benefit farmers and protect the environment. Focusing on skills such as pruning, weeding, agroforestry, and climate-smart farming, it improves yields while combating deforestation. Farmers attend training in “field schools” and then receive tailored support from coaches who visit to check on farmers’ progress and see how they are putting what they have learned into practice. Farmers are taught in groups of 20-30 and are given advice relevant to the size of their farm, which for the Salif family spans two hectares.
As part of the training, Ouedrago learned the basics of agroforestry, a sustainable farming practice where trees are grown among crops. For cocoa, this means making sure the farm has the right species, height, and coverage of shade trees, which protect cocoa plants from heat and water stress. Thanks to the training, Ouedrago improved his understanding of the benefits of agroforestry and decided to plant 15 shade trees on his farm. Along with fellow farmers, he was also taught how to integrate the management of pests and diseases with sanitation and good hygiene practice.
The program coached farmers to use fertilizer more economically, for example by targeting it through small holes near the roots of cocoa trees. Farmers were taught proven practices for raising yields sustainably, such as leaving a 2.5-5 meter distance between tree species so that their root systems don’t compete. Making sure each plant is well exposed to the sun and the canopy allows air to flow freely.
For the Salif family, this knowledge has quickly proven its value. Ouedrago notes that “the results I had were so good that my yields extended beyond the season, I attribute that completely to what I learned during my coaching experience”. Better yields translate into more income, as Ouedrago says, “my financial gains have increased and become more predictable compared to the previous year before I had been coached, because my farm’s productivity has increased.” The family is now better able to pay for unforeseen or off-season expenses such as school fees.
Although COVID-19 brought about some delays to this program, the experience of Ouedrago and other farmers shows how quickly the training can make a difference to cocoa farming. In this company’s supply chain, 2,246 farmers have been trained to date. In addition to benefitting farmers and their incomes, the program helps preserve soils and prevent deforestation caused by expansion into new land to maintain yields.