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Empowering Local Communities and Combating Cross-Commodity Deforestation in the Soubré Landscape, Côte d'Ivoire
Empowering Local Communities and Combating Cross-Commodity Deforestation in the Soubré Landscape, Côte d'Ivoire
News Jul 7, 2023

Preserving Soubré's Natural Heritage: Empowering Communities for Sustainable Coexistence

Soubré, situated in the Center-west of Côte d'Ivoire (374 km from Abidjan), is the predominant hub for cocoa production, contributing to 20% of the country's total output. Encompassing 977,565 hectares (ha), Soubré is home to Taï National Park, covering 24.66% of the area in the west.

The region grapples with the encroachment of agricultural activities that threaten its invaluable protected areas. The Niégré Forest Reserve in the southeast, the Rapid Grah Forest Reserve in the Southwest, and the Mont Kourabahi Forest Reserve (in the centre of the Soubré Region) have also experienced increasing pressure from significant tree cover loss due to cocoa and annual crop cultivation.


The country has one of the highest deforestation rates in Africa, losing around 80% of its forest from 1960 to 2015.

Balancing the need to provide livelihoods for farmers while reducing the strain on these forests has become the main focus of Earthworm Foundation's presence in the area working with major corporate partners such as pladis, GODIVA and Givaudan as well as the local government and the Ivorian Forest Development Agency (SODEFOR).

Addressing these pressing issues is vital to safeguard the region's natural heritage and promote sustainable practices for a harmonious coexistence between agriculture and conservation.

Supporting Resilient Farmers and Promoting Regenerative Agriculture

Approximately 251,000 smallholder farmers producing cocoa in Soubré face challenges such as low productivity, meagre incomes, and the devastating swollen shoot virus (CSSV), which destroys cocoa trees.

Additionally, oil palm production, which benefits 3,353 smallholders, exhibits low productivity as well. These factors pressure forests as farmers seek new land and better soil to improve their incomes.

Earthworm Foundation has implemented various training and coaching programs to address these challenges. These initiatives primarily promote regenerative agriculture practices, including producing bio-pesticides and bio-stimulants derived from natural ingredients. Moreover, efforts have been made to replant palm orchards with high-yield seedlings and introduce shade trees in cocoa plantations. These interventions enhance farmers' productivity and contribute to restoring and protecting the region's forests.

”We urgently need to engage in regenerative agriculture and better protect humans and nature. By using biopesticides and biostimulants in an effective way, we will be at the same time regenerating the soils beneath the plantations. It is the only way of stopping the ‘forest devouring' extensive agriculture in our landscape", explains Gerome Topka, Regional Head, Africa at Earthworm Foundation in Côte d'Ivoire.

Empowering Women and Promoting Financial Inclusion

Access to finance has emerged as a crucial factor for women's development in the Soubré landscape.

The establishment of Village Saving and Loan Associations (VSLAs) has provided women with enhanced financial opportunities and resources.

Through partnerships with local communities and lead farmers, Earthworm Foundation has facilitated the creation of VSLAs, enabling women to access credit for income-generating activities and receive training in diversification. These initiatives have improved women's economic prospects, fostered their confidence, and restored their dignity.

Eleonore Ngbesso, head of the field team in Côte d'Ivoire, highlights the importance of these associations for women in the region:" We are having an enriching experience with these women who today have learned to save money, to think about Income generating activities, to take loans, to develop their activities and to repay their loans.”

"This collective learning has fostered contact between these women. Through their access to funding, they are more entrepreneurial. They contribute modestly to domestic expenses. They support their husbands and have regained their dignity."

Patricia Zabo, a trader and Vice-President of the Village Saving and Loan Associations (VSLAs) in the village of Badayo, shared with us the transformative impact of their association on women's access to credit.

Before the establishment of the VSLA, women faced challenges in obtaining loans. Patricia herself benefited from financial support and used the loan to create her own shop, marking the beginning of her entrepreneurial journey.

"When you have money at home, you can spend it carelessly, she says. With VSLA, your money is assured. It's protected. You can manage your money better and do more things. My work helps to save better now. And when you save, you can earn more and achieve more. That's my goal."

Previously confined to selling various products from her home, including hibiscus juice and milk, she now boasts a store selling plastic plates and containers, as well as fish, enabling her to expand her business and her opportunities for economic growth.

Patricia Zabo, a trader and Vice-President of the Village Saving and Loan Associations (VSLAs) in the village of Badayo

Working Together for Soubré: Embracing a Holistic Approach

Corporate partners, including pladis, GODIVA and Givaudan, recognise the significance of the Soubré landscape initiative and actively contribute to its success.

By sourcing cocoa products from responsible and sustainable supply chains, these companies support the landscape approach and empower local communities.

pladis has joined forces with Earthworm to forge partnerships with four cocoa cooperatives in Côte d'Ivoire. As the company sources much of its cocoa from the country, this engagement has the impact of better securing a steady supply of traceable and sustainably produced beans to meet the needs of pladis' grinding facility, while also offering opportunities to engage with the communities that form the foundation of a global value chain.

pladis Chief Global Corporate Affairs and Sustainability Officer, Anisa Missaghi

“Our commitment is to use 100% deforestation-free cocoa by 2030. And while forest protection is at the heart of this commitment, it must also go hand-in-hand with providing local community support to our farmers, particularly bringing gender equity to life."

"When we think of the two aspects of community support and forest protection, we need to ensure they are hand-in-hand so our commitment is 100% deforestation-free cocoa by 2030. But also, we're focusing on bringing gender equity to life. The importance of working with smallholders and integrating traceability techniques, as well as supporting the communities and working with women,” Missaghi adds.

GODIVA, a renowned chocolatier, sources around half of its cocoa products from pladis to craft its signature chocolate products. Their commitment to women's empowerment aligns with the initiative's objective of promoting gender equality and providing economic opportunities for women in the region.

The collective efforts of these corporate partners have facilitated livelihood diversification, best management practices training, and the implementation of savings schemes, benefiting numerous farmers and their families.

Moving Towards Greater Impact: The Next Stage of the Soubré Project

By 2023, the partners under the Soubré landscape initiative aspire to restore 200 ha of cocoa and oil palm farms, assist 500 farmers in income diversification, train 1,000 farmers in best management practices, help 300 women access finance, and restore 60 ha of degraded forest.

The Soubré landscape is a valuable model for implementing cross-commodity landscape initiatives, emphasising the importance of collaboration among various sectors.

"The cross-commodity initiative in the Landscape is the best way to fight against deforestation while attacking the monocultural farming tradition", shares Gerome Tokpa.

"On the other hand, only working on cocoa or rubber won't help conserve forest patches. We must sensitise all farmers to the need to protect forests and also diversify their revenues."

Through its efforts to empower locals, promote financial inclusion, and address cross-commodity deforestation, this initiative is making significant strides towards long-term sustainability. As the Soubré landscape continues to inspire and engage more partners, the collective effort to combat deforestation and uplift local communities grows stronger, setting an example for other regions facing similar challenges.

However, sustainable funding remains a significant challenge. Long-term financial support is essential to sustain the multi-commodity landscape approach and ensure the achievement of the initiative's goals.

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This work is part of Earthworm's landscape programme in the Soubré Landscape, Côte d'Ivoire; which is supported by pladis, Givaudan and GODIVA. We work in collaboration with a growing number of local and national stakeholders. The pillars of our work are smallholder resilience, regenerative agriculture, and the restoration and maintenance of degraded forests.

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