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The lives of four communities are being transformed by the planting of 40 000 cacao saplings outside Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Congo. The programme, involving the rehabilitation of old cacao fields, is expected to improve harvest yields, the quality of beans and generate income for local villages.

cacao cocoa
© African Parks

Note: ‘Cacao’ refers to the tree and to the product made from non-roasted seeds and ‘cocoa’ refers to the product made from roasted seeds.

The programme is being funded by Rapac (Réseau des Aires Protégees d’Afrique Centrale) and is designed to improve the potential of cacao as an alternative income alternative to bushmeat poaching, a significant 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.

© African Parks
© African Parks
cacao cocoa
© African Parks

70% of the world’s annual cacao production comes from the African continent, and subsistence farmers provide 90 % of this. 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 cacao plantation rehabilitation programme at Odzala-Kokoua National Park that will create income-generating activities and divert communities from bushmeat 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 cacao 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 are very suitable for the crop, but a marketing infrastructure is lacking. In addition to improving the marketing, the project will establish cacao nurseries in the community, improve the productivity and quality of cacao 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 cacao 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 cacao growers to collaborate with Cameroonian cacao farmers to secure higher prices for their crops.

cacao cocoa
© Graham Crumb

Historically cacao production flourished in the Congo with frequent training given in the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1970s the cultivation of cacao was taken over by the Congolese authorities due to the financial implications and its essential economic function. However, pressure from the World Bank to liberalise the cacao market resulted in decreasing market prices, the withdrawal of the government and the closing of the Office of Coffee and Cacao. This meant that the farmers had to take care of their own cacao.

To read more on the history of chocolate in central Africa read: The chocolate Isles and to learn more about Odzala-Kokoua National Park click here.

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African Parks

African Parks is a non-profit organisation that takes on total responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of national parks in partnership with governments, wildlife organisations and local communities. We operate thirteen national parks in nine countries: Rwanda, Zambia, Mozambique, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Malawi and Benin. Please see or visit our Facebook page for more information.