Everyone likes chocolate, yes? I know a few people who love the stuff and I’m quite partial to the odd block or two myself. So while spending a few days at a recent Forest Investment Program (FIP) monitoring and reporting workshop in Ghana I travelled to meet some cocoa farmers near Bibiani and get the low down on everyone’s favorite treat.

Credit: Climate Investment Funds

There’s an old saying that ‘Ghana is cocoa, cocoa is Ghana.’  That’s because Ghana produces over one-fifth of the world’s total and in a country of 26 million people, the cocoa sector offers livelihoods for around 800,000 families.  Within the past two decades cocoa production has grown rapidly as demand increased sharply.   This is carried out mainly by smallholders – many of them women - who farm on a plot of around four hectares, so this expansion has boosted livelihoods for many families in poor rural areas.

However this expansion has come at a high environmental price. Ghana is experiencing a deforestation rate of 2% per year. That’s one of the highest in the world and it is estimated half of it is driven by the conversion of forests into cocoa farms.  

Credit: The World Bank

Cocoa is naturally a shade loving species and used to be planted under a canopy of retained forest trees. As crops changed to higher yielding sun-loving varieties, where canopy-filled skies were more of a nuisance, led to the removal of forest cover – with devastating effects on Ghana’s forests. 

While in Ghana, Ghana’s Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, the national Cocoa Board and local farmers all explained the problem of cocoa swollen shoot virus which can affect 80% of a farmer’s crop. It turns out that the sun-loving cocoa varieties still prefer things hot and humid but without trees to provide some shade, they struggle with the drier, hotter conditions brought about by climate change.  This is making them susceptible to diseases. An International Centre for Tropical Agriculture report predicts a massive drop in cocoa production in West Africa by 2030 due to climate change.

Credit: Climate Investment Funds

There is another old saying that ‘everything that goes around, comes around’ and it turns out that reestablishing tree cover is the best solution. By getting some shade, humidity increases and the trees are less stressed and less liable to cocoa swollen shoot virus.

It’s part of what’s called ‘climate-smart cocoa’ – not only is it helping farmers avoid a troublesome disease but the trees are a valuable resource once grown. It’s making cocoa farming more resilient to future shifts in long-term climate patterns as well as short-term shocks. 

Credit: Climate Investment Funds

However, tree ownership in Ghana is not simple and poor rural farmers are often unable buy seedlings. So in Bibiani working with the African Development Bank, the FIP is helping the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources address long standing tree tenure issues and establish 16,000 hectare of shade cocoa along with climate smart agroforestry systems.  This will help improve resilience in cocoa farms and relieve the pressure from further cocoa expansion into forests. 

This is part of a $60 million program supported by World Bank and African Development Bank to address the underlying drivers of deforestation, introduce sustainable agriculture practices and develop forestry and agro-forestry activities.  The program aims to offer a sweeter future for Ghana’s cocoa farmers.  

Now then, where’s that box of chocolates I bought on my travels?

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