The lives of four communities are being transformed by the planting of 40 000 cocoa saplings outside Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Congo. The programme, involving the rehabilitation of old cocoa fields, is expected to improve harvest yields, the quality of beans and generate income for local villages.
The programme is being funded by Rapac (Réseau des Aires Protégees d’Afrique Centrale) and is designed to improve the potential of cocoa as an alternative income alternative to bush meat poaching, a major conservation challenge that threatens the forests of the Congo basin. Agricultural production needs to increase by 70% by 2050 to ensure global food security and avoid adding additional pressures on natural resources in emerging countries.
70% of the world’s annual cocoa production comes from the African continent and 90% of this is provided by subsistence farmers. These smallholders are not organised and do not have access to equipment or financial institutions. In the northern sector of Odzala-Kokoua National Park, this is changing. African Parks is managing a cocoa plantation rehabilitation programme at Odzala-Kokoua National Park that will create income generating activities and divert communities from bush meat poaching, promoting the development of natural resources to local communities.
Four nurseries have been set up north of the park in the villages of Goa, Biessie, Boutazab and Batekok, the sites of old cocoa plantations, almost all dating back to colonial times. The saplings are being nurtured and tended to by community members until they are five to ten months old and ready for planting. Once planted, the trees will begin bearing fruit in two to three years.
The climate and soil in the northern area is very suitable for the crop, but a marketing infrastructure is lacking. In addition to improving the marketing, the project will establish cocoa nurseries in the community, improve the productivity and quality of cocoa produced, increase the area under protection and strengthen existing farmer organisations.
All villagers involved in the initiative have received formal and in-field instruction in growing and harvesting cocoa from agricultural experts who were trained in Brazil. Topics covered have included the rehabilitation and maintenance of plantations and treatments to improve their yields.
The programme is also exploring options for the cocoa growers to collaborate with Cameroonian cocoa farmers in order to secure higher prices for their crops.
Historically cocoa production flourished in the Congo with frequent training given in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1970s the cultivation of cocoa was taken over by the Congolese authorities due to the financial implications and its important economic function. However, pressure from the World Bank to liberalise the cocoa market resulted in decreasing market prices, the withdrawal of the government and the closing of the Office of Coffee and Cocoa. This meant that the farmers had to take care of their own cocoa.