In the Cavally region in western Côte d'Ivoire lies the Cavally Forest Reserve.
It is one of the best-preserved forests in the West African country. With an area of 67,541 hectares, this forest is a biodiversity hotspot threatened by deforestation, one of the main causes of which is cocoa farming. Despite the fact that it is forbidden, some farmers enter the Cavally Forest to produce cocoa.
This was the case with N'Guessan Kouadio Ferdinand.
"I used to live with my brother in Sassandra in the south of Côte d'Ivoire. We were on his cocoa plantation. A friend of mine told me that he had a forest where I could work on my own,” Ferdinand said. “Interested, I asked what steps I had to take to get a plot in this forest. He told me I had to pay 132,000 CFA Francs ($196). I gave him 90,000 CFA Francs ($136) because I did not have this amount. One night, at around 8 p.m., we went into the forest. In the morning, he showed me a 10-hectare plot and I started working."
Hoping to have a very different lifestyle, Ferdinand realised that his troubles had only begun. He later learned that the forest he had been investing in for several months was a forest reserve.
“We were nine people working there. One day on the way back from the field, I learned that two of my workmates had been arrested. It was then that I realised that the forest was not downgraded,” he said.
To avoid the same fate, Ferdinand abandoned his activities inside the reserve and searched for legal jobs.
“One Sunday without saying goodbye, I left the forest reserve. I was struggling to get out of it. A brother helped me become a motorcycle taxi driver. One evening after work, a relative named Loukou informed me that he met Earthworm agents and that they told him about snail farming. I decided to go see them for more details,” he said.
Once at the Earthworm office, several activities were offered to him, but Ferdinand chose snail farming.
“There were a lot of projects. I preferred to focus on snail farming. I started with 25 snails. I now have 719 snails, “he said.
In addition to the production and sale of snails, Ferdinand decided to invest in the restoration of the forest that he had previously helped to destroy. From raising awareness to reforestation work, he does not hesitate to get his hands dirty.
“By raising awareness, I managed to get eight people out of the forest. Among the eight people, there are five today who are working with me on a reforestation project in the same forest. Now, I miss no opportunity to tell those who have remained in the forest about the advantages of what I am doing,” he said.
Earthworm Foundation in collaboration with the Ivorian Forest Development Agency (SODEFOR), the financial support of Nestlé and the institutional support of the Ministry of Water and Forests (MINEF), works for the conservation and restoration of this forest while strengthening the resilience of communities living around the forest. Alternatives are also sought and offered to people infiltrated into the Cavally Forest reserve who wish to abandon their activities within the forest.