The mighty Congo Basin rainforest is spread across five countries and is rivalled only by the Amazon in its vastness. The Cameroonian village of Konye is within the western reaches of the Congo Basin, and is home to around 1,000 inhabitants dependent on both cocoa and the forest for their livelihoods.
The vast majority of the world's cocoa is produced in smallholdings between 2-4 hectares, like those around Konye. Cocoa farming, the cause of much deforestation in west Africa, may now be one answer to saving what's left of the natural forests.
One of the biggest challenges to face cocoa farmers in Cameroon is their dependence on the volatile international market prices (the price of cocoa halved between 1992-1993). The government dropped its support scheme after the ’90s price crash, and the farmers’ only choice is to sell to individual buyers who provide expensive loans and give bad prices for the cocoa. In addition the changing climate is making weather and seasons less predictable, and cocoa grown in plantations is highly susceptible to pests and disease. Simply drying cocoa beans in such a wet climate means that farmers often resort to wood-fired ovens, lowering and sometimes negating the value of the beans. Cash crops like cocoa are exported leaving farmers to buy their nutritional needs.
Grown as part of an agroforestry system, cocoa may provide the key for small-scale farmers to break out of the cycle of poverty, increase their ability to cope with climate change and commodity price swings, while protecting primary forests from further destruction.
Ecological farming encompasses a wide range of modern crop and livestock management systems that seek to increase yields and incomes, and maximise the sustainable use of local natural resources while minimising the need for external inputs. Ecological farming ensures healthy farming and healthy food for today and tomorrow, by protecting soil, water and climate. It promotes biodiversity, and does not contaminate the environment with chemical inputs or genetically engineered plant varieties.
Agroforestry focuses on the wide range of work with trees grown on farms and in rural landscapes. Among these are fertiliser trees for land regeneration, soil health and food security; fruit trees for nutrition; fodder trees that improve smallholder livestock production; timber and fuelwood trees for shelter and energy; medicinal trees to combat disease; and trees that produce gums, resins or latex products. Many of these trees are multipurpose, providing a range of social, economic and environmental benefits.
Agroforestry preserves the canopy cover ensuring continuity between wildlife habitats. Forest cover provides corridors and preserves water flows and enables wildlife to participate in the natural forest cycles, spreading seeds and manure across the forest region.
In Konye, farmers are benefitting from joining KONAFCOOP. The cooperative sells in bulk direct to customers and can negotiate better prices for the farmers. Through farmer field schools they learn to regenerate the land by diversifying what they grow, working with the forests natural ability to create healthy ecosystems that balance nutrients and pest/disease control measures.
KONAFCOOP has built the trust of international buyers and donors to engage in long-term contracts, providing the expertise and premiums required to develop a sustainable future for the community. Certification is important for the cooperative, as prices for fair trade and organic produce can be much higher and come with additional premiums to benefit the community and farmers. An example of this was the purchase of the badly needed electric drying oven, which was funded by Konafcoop's Fair Trade cocoa sales. To gain certification, cocoa must be grown according to the rules of that body, and the farmers attend trainings in production, pest control and shade management.
As the farmers bring their cocoa together, they are able to sell at better prices, therefore each farmer who belongs to a cooperative earns more money selling to the cooperative than a farmer who sells independebntly to other buyers, so that is an advantage we gain as members of the cooperative. Because of the cooperative we are able to influence the situation. I would say that Konye community is relatively better in terms of forest management because today we train farmers to know that even we have to cultivate cocoa we have to also allow other trees to stay as canopies for this cocoa and also to check the ecosystem to protect the cocoa and also to increase their revenue because when you harvest cocoa and you harvest other crops from the other economic trees you are able to make more money so this is a practice we are implementing today in order to save the forest.
I train farmers how to produce quality cocoa and to increase their production on their farms. I also train them in nursery preparation and I also train them in planting and diversification. Many forests in africa, they have been tampered with the bush system of shifting cultivation and now to preserve this forest, we, the facilitators are going out to village to vilage to train farmers how preserve the forests, instead of destroying the forests, we are now bring them for diversification, planting of other timbers trees on their farms. Also some other provisions of tree like palm trees whih is also economic tree, trees like Njangson good for human consumption and it is also a financial tree to farmers when the cocoa is out of season. and so on. we encourage them to plant and sew some of these trees. we go into the forest and collect the seeds and come and do nurseries.
Working together in cooperative units and practising agroforestry to produce a diversity of crops, including cocoa, farmers can support themselves financially in the long term, while providing food for their families and local markets. Agroforestry relies on biodiversity and can restore fertility to fallow and degraded lands, creating a physical and financial buffer from degradation of the remaining forests and improving the soil's ability to nourish plants and produce food.
ACDIC (Citzen association for the defense of collective interests) is a Cameroonian organisation campaigning for food sovereignty and people's rights. They have been partner of Greenpeace in Cameroon from identifying the threats to people and forest, to creating new alternative development models for the regions.
The Farmer's voice is a Cameroonian monthly newspaper that intends to link farmers with each other in order to share best practices, and promote a sustainable and fair agricultural model for Cameroon and Africa.
A long term project by FiBL has established systems comparison field experiments to study conventional and organic cocoa production in monocrop (full sun) and agroforestry (shaded) systems.
Good agricultural practices for sustainable cocoa production: a guide for farmer training by Richard Asare and Sonii David for University of Copenhagen;
Manual no. 1: Planting, replanting and tree diversification in cocoa systems.
Manual no. 3: Conservation and biodiversity in and around cocoa farms.
Ecoforestry in Papua New Guinea - protecting the forest and local economies
The Canadian Great Bear Rainforest Agreement
Good Oil - A solution to destructive industrial-scale oil palm plantations in Indonesia