Sustainable cocoa requires biodiversity
Climate change, poor soil, overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, and a lack of natural inputs, such as shade and pollinators, are adding more pressure on cocoa farmers who are already experiencing declining cocoa yields. If you ask a farmer what an optimal cocoa farm looks like, they will describe it as having steady and optimum cocoa yields without the additional costs of purchasing inputs such as fertilizer or agrochemicals. To stop further encroachment into protected forest areas, cocoa farmers need to be equipped to increase the amount of cocoa they grow on the same, or even less, land.
Over the past two years, we have run field trials in Ghana and Indonesia and also at various research institutions in Germany and the UK to test which biochar formulation works most effectively on cocoa and other native tree species found in cocoa growing areas.
In the last few months, we have received exciting confirmation that our biochar has positively affected both the root size and growth of the cocoa tree. This means, planting new seedlings with biochar can greatly increase the survival rate of those trees. As a result, cocoa plants will be healthier and more resistant to heat, drought and disease, reducing the need for agro-chemicals. Going forward, our plan in 2022 is to use biochar at large scale for planting both cocoa and non-cocoa trees.
To unlock this powerful natural potential, we are scaling up the capacity of our nursery production facilities in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Cameroon, Brazil, Ecuador and Indonesia. Our nurseries are stocked with both cocoa and non-cocoa seedlings. For example, in Côte d’Ivoire we are distributing close to 1 million seedlings in 2021, with species including cocoa, teak, mahogany, sugar palm, coconut and mandarin.
In addition, we are working closely with farmers to provide technical assistance and farm diagnostics. For example, we offer access to high-quality seedlings and support with the selection of non-cocoa trees, and importantly, assistance to increase the survival of the non-cocoa tree species.
Innovative planting and monitoring
As part of our approach, we are innovating field verification practices. Critically, our actions will extend beyond tree distribution to also include tree monitoring and remote sensing verification methods. This will help us better understand the health of our supplying farms and improve their ecosystems.
Restoring high-value ecosystems
Restoration of degraded forests and ecosystem corridors between farms aims to bring back the ecosphere of a forest, such as water and soil quality and native plant species. In May 2021, we commenced the planting of 300 hectares of degraded forest in Côte d’Ivoire. As part of this project, we are planting around 35 species to help restore the original state of the existing environment. Through this activity, we are also creating employment opportunities for local communities. We intend to scale this activity and focus on the restoration of classified forests and other areas to ensure sustainability and the achievement of our Forever Chocolate commitments.
For further information on our efforts to become carbon and forest positive, please see our latest Forever Chocolate Progress Report.