Harvesting cocoa is a delicate and labour-intensive process in most of the areas in which the crop flourishes. One-by-one each pod must be carefully cut with a machete in such a way that the fruit is separated from the trees with the buds remaining intact. In most of the world, this kind of farming is still performed on small family farms and by individual landowners. Injuries and mishaps are not uncommon, and, even though it is a booming and lucrative global business, the growers and harvesters themselves often do not reap the primary benefits of the trade and remain impoverished subsistence farmers.
Yet the industry is an essential economic lifeline in a number of developing countries. In Cameroon, where production, processing and export of cocoa generates an added value (direct and indirect) of CFAF 202 billion annually, the conditions have been particularly harsh and unpredictable in recent years. In the middle part of the decade, the country had ambitious plans to shore up the cocoa industry to benefit farmers, but fluctuating and varying quality yields, due to external crises and price drops, have led to a decrease in farmers’ incomes. Likewise, the sensitivity of the cocoa crop makes it especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
For Cameroon, the fourth largest producer of cocoa in the world, it is imperative for both the economy and for slowing the destruction of the country’s landscapes to holistically reform the sector.
Fostering sustainable commodity production
Since such a large percentage of farmers in an already agrarian economy are engaged in cocoa farming, it makes economic sense for the Cameroon government to invest heavily in the sector as a potential way to lift people out of poverty and help grow the country’s economy. Yet, this shouldn’t come at the expense of Cameroon forests, which are its best ally to combat the negative impacts of climate change. Increased deforestation and forest degradation in Cameroon would negatively impact water availability, translate into higher temperatures, increase erosion and damage soil fertility. It would jeopardize the productivity of the agriculture sector in the long term.
“Cameroon cannot move away from cocoa without major disruptions in the economy and in livelihoods, nor should they, as it is a commodity with high global demand,” said Fideline Mboringong of WWF-Cameroon. “However, there is no question that if we want to maximize the benefits of cocoa farming, both in economic and environmental terms, we must help build a new kind of cocoa industry –one that is a positive agent of change –and that is what we aim to do.”
Fortunately there is increasing awareness among both farmers and policymakers that sustainable practices need to be adopted and implemented. In recent years, a number of new initiatives have sprung up in Cameroon through local and international public and private partnerships to address this need. Groups like the African Development Bank have invested in providing more resilient seed varieties to help stabilize annual yields. Others have worked with the national government to incorporate sustainable agriculture in its economic planning process. However, until recently, there has not been a robust comprehensive approach that generates buy-in from all stakeholders at all levels, from local and national governments to local and multinational cocoa farmers, distributors and producers.
A new kind of approach to growth and sustainability
To address this need, in 2019, WWF and IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative formed the Green Commodity Landscape Programme (GCLP), which is brings together landscape-level stakeholders to co-define and jointly implement action plans that will contribute to forest protection, sustainable production and enhanced livelihoods for farmers and the surrounding communities in two selected landscapes in the country. The WWF and IDH teams are assessing the potential of applying a multi-stakeholder landscape approach to produce a full-fledged deforestation-free sourcing model for cocoa in Cameroon, integrating the rubber, palm oil and timber industries and, if successful, scaling it up across Cameroon.
To begin, a scoping study was conducted to isolate the criteria and select specific landscapes to serve as entry points for the GCLP. Based on the criteria of forest cover, sustainable production, carbon potential, socio-economic and land-use, two landscapes were identified to further develop the programme –the Grand Mbam, an area in the centre of the country that produces some 27 percent of all cocoa, and the Djoum-Mintom, a sparsely populated forest block in the southeast. Pilot municipalities were then prioritised within these landscapes in order to more effectively engage with local governments and communities.
“We chose these two areas to launch the GCLP because they were most representative of the typical scenarios in which cocoa is grown in Cameroon,” explained Joël Owona, Landscape Program Manager at IDH. “And we found, for example, that while the pressure to increase yields was certainly increasing deforestation, there were already some positive efforts by farmers underway, particularly in the Grand Mbam landscape, and therefore highlighting the success of cocoa agroforestry to improve sustainability and productivity of cocoa farming.” While cocoa agroforestry is widely practiced in Cameroon there is a need to avoid a shift to full sun plantations.
Bringing stakeholders together
Since the formation of the GCLP was, in part, motivated by the commitments of many cocoa and chocolate companies in pursuing sustainability along their supply chain, the scoping phase also included consultations of companies operating in the region, including large multinationals, who, though they have expressed a commitment to ending deforestation and forest degradation in the cocoa supply chain through the Cocoa & Forests Initiative , had not yet engaged with local and international partners to fully realize such a plan in Cameroon. Their participation in the GCLP as part of the multi-stakeholder approach presents opportunities, such as the possibility to co-design a program that will help them achieve and verify their sustainability claims, on top of more direct business benefits such as helping to increase cocoa yields thereby strengthening resilience of their supply chains and reducing risks.
“While the companies we engaged in GCLP are committed to sustainable cocoa production at global level, we are also engaging with them and the Cameroonian government towards a national-level commitment, through the Roadmap to Deforestation-free Cocoa, a public-private-civil society partnership towards a sustainable cocoa value chain in Cameroon” said Jonas Mva Mva, IDH Cocoa Programme Director. “But there was also a need to link these national-level discussions to action in the field, and this is where the GCLP adds value.”
Part and parcel to the GCLP’s vision is strengthening landscape governance, and this means partnerships with local governments. One of the reasons the programme has chosen municipal pilots is because this is where a lot of the decision-making over land-use and funding of farms are made. The Communes, or Municipal Councils are in charge of the Council Development Plan, which is the primary level of government at which officials engage with farmers and plan and budget for local development. The GCLP is seeking to work as a bridge or conduit between the local landscape level and the national level of government, which has been working with IDH to develop the Roadmap to Deforestation-free Cocoa.
Looking ahead: moving toward sustainable cocoa production
In 2020, the GCLP began its second phase, which includes shoring up on-the-ground expertise to build a Production-Protection-Inclusion baseline and satellite images for land-use mapping. Phase 2 is also focusing on developing stakeholder engagement and financing strategies in preparation for the design phase further down the road, increased capacity building, setting up a governance structure for the programme and continued engagement with cocoa sourcing companies.
“Right now, we are in the process of laying the groundwork to design an implementable plan to realize the vision of sustainable production, forest protection and restoration, and social inclusion,” explained Raphaele Deau of the WWF Landscape Finance Lab. “In order to do this, we need to support business, create investment opportunities and build comprehensive finance plans while strengthening our multi-stakeholder coalition. We have an ambitious but much welcome journey ahead of us.”
Ultimately, when the programme is being implemented, there will be a whole host of interventions, such as improving post-harvest practices, developing robust financing facilities for farmers, green cocoa marketing and forest monitoring and management, among other actions.
“We have a lot of work yet to do, but even at this early stage we are encouraged by the commitments we are seeing from all the stakeholders, both local and international,” added Mva Mva. “We are confident with these commitments we can help Cameroon truly transform its cocoa industry to benefit farmers, communities, the country, and, of course, the natural environment.”
Violaine Berger, Initiative, IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative – Senior Program Manager, Cocoa & Forests firstname.lastname@example.org
Ingeborg Mägi, WWF Netherlands – Global Lead Sustainable Landscapes email@example.com