Fruitful training brings hope and joy to cocoa farmers in Ivory Coast

Award-winning British chocolatier Will Torrent will be pleased to know that chocolate consumption around the world is on the rise. The latest figures from Mintel, a leading market intelligence agency, reflect the importance of seasonal sales at times such as Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s Day.

Cocoa farmer Clement was able to improve his harvest after learning new sustainable ways of growing his crop. Photo: Tom Price

Facing challenges  

Will recently returned from a trip to the Ivory Coast where he met cocoa farmers and gained a real insight into the fundamental challenges faced by farmers in this region. 

‘I’ve always loved chocolate, but seeing the cocoa farmers’ dedication to their demanding crop, and their pride when all their hard work paid off, made me realise what a cherished resource it is.’ 

Clement is one such farmer. He is married with six children and for many years wasn’t even able to harvest three bags of cacao beans from his farm of about 2.7 hectares. 

‘I’d ask myself, “Is it a spiritual situation that is blocking me?” And while I was deep in these doubts, that’s when Loukou Desire [Director of ADIAS] came to our village.’ 

Training for change 

Clement went to the training workshops organised by Tearfund’s church partner, ADIAS (Alliance for Integral Development and Social Action), and followed their advice. ‘They gave us natural fertilisers to help us and demonstrated how we should use them. We were instructed to mix 1ml of the organic fertiliser with 1l water. Three months later we noticed a change. I went from producing three bags of cacao to producing 14 and harvesting 1.5 tonnes of beans!’ 

Now that Clement has seen how it works, he is committed to budgeting so that he can afford to use this method every year. The training also encouraged him to take care of his own affairs and showed him how to do this. As a result, he says he has become more independent and is better able to take care of his family. He is even able to pay school fees and has bought a pig and two hens. 

‘When I try to talk about this I feel emotional and overwhelmed by joy. Previously, I was covered in shame. Now people look up to me. I’m very happy and proud.’

Top left: Cocoa pods and other produce grown by the farmers. / Bottom left: ADIAS staff member Yao shows Will Torrent the cocoa saplings in N'zuékro, Issia, Ivory Coast. / Right: Fermented and dried cocoa beans, ready for roasting. / Photos: Tom Price

‘Previously, I was covered in shame. Now people look up to me. I’m very happy and proud.’

Clement
Agroeconomist Yao (right) supports farmers like Clement (left) to identify the right variety of cacao for their soil type. Photo: Tom Price

Yao, the young ADIAS agroeconomist who worked with Clement, is equally pleased with the results so far. ‘I am very happy, especially when I see that the farmers follow my advice. It’s a great pleasure to share that experience with them.’ 

Finding solutions  

Working with the community in stages, they start by mapping out their population and resources, identifying their challenges together, then looking for solutions to those problems. For example, they support farmers to identify the right variety of cacao for their soil type, working alongside government advisers. 

‘Some farms started in the 1990s but they are no longer fruitful,’ says Yao. ‘This suggests that they were not able to manage their finances well or didn’t know how to farm sustainably. We advise farmers to rest their land. We might suggest cutting the whole farm down or do it bit by bit and start again. It’s important for the land to rest. When the soil rests, it recomposes itself and regains its richness. Composting is used to enrich the soil and the plants and it helps to reduce erosion.’ 

Starting again from scratch can be a very frustrating experience for the farmers. ‘When they cut down their farm they feel like they don’t have anything. For a period they can’t harvest any cacao and they can feel ashamed, but it’s essential in the long term.’ Once the land has rested, for up to five years, Yao recommends planting banana plants first. These increase the moisture in the soil and are a complementary food crop to grow alongside cacao. 

‘Banana plants enrich the soil and provide shade for the cacao saplings to be able to grow. It’s so important that we grow food crops such as peppers, tomatoes, aubergines and okra as well as cacao so that farmers and their families have food to eat during the tough times. Recently, there have been long periods of drought, but those who have grown these more unusual crops are coping better because they can sell them at a good price and they also have an improved diet.’ 

Learning to trust 

Yao’s relationship with the farmers is ongoing. ‘We monitor their progress and continue to give feedback and advice. It’s true that when people trust you then they are able to learn. Trust is so important.’ 

Will felt privileged to see this relationship take root: ‘The peace and tranquillity of the cocoa plantation will stay with me for a very long time. It was a sheer delight to talk about cocoa with the people who lovingly tend these valuable plants in a spirit of hope and joy.’

Kouassi Konan
Kouassi Konan is a project officer for Tearfund in Ivory Coast. Email: kouassi.konan@tearfund.org