As an organisation dedicated to nurturing the relationship between people and nature, we at Earthworm Foundation are very excited about our new partnership with Nestlé to better protect the Cavally Forest Reserve, one of Côte d’Ivoire’s most precious forests. Together with Nestlé, the Ministry of Waters and Forests (Ministère des Eaux et Forêts, MINEF) and the Ivorian Forestry Agency (SODEFOR), we will work to protect and restore the reserve and increase the resilience of farmers and local communities.
This work represents an exciting opportunity environmentally, ecologically and just as importantly, socially. Protecting forests is often a balance between the interests of the environment and the communities who are custodians of that land. Ensuring that people and nature can thrive is fundamental to our work. Yet the complexity in a landscape like Cavally is particularly significant, with deforestation being predominantly driven by cocoa growers, who are reliant on the crop for a living.
The challenge lies in the way cocoa is grown. Cocoa-driven deforestation is difficult to spot from the air, with farmers often clearing the forest floor to plant their cocoa, which in its infancy requires the shade of the taller trees that make up the forest canopy. It is only when the crops grow and they require more sunlight that larger trees are felled, at which point it is too late to stop deforestation, as it has already happened.
These practices threaten endangered species and further loss of forest. It’s widely reported that Côte d’Ivoire’s has lost 80% of its forest since 1960. Consumers, companies and governments all understand the risks of continued deforestation. As a result, many want to actively protect forests and re-forest some areas. This is hugely encouraging. It will positively impact the future health of forests and the species living in them, but it will also affect cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire, some of whom have migrated from neighbouring countries like Burkina Faso. To put this into context, a study by the French Development Agency estimates there is between 700,000 and a million cocoa farming families in Côte d’Ivoire.
Some farmers have established their farms within forest reserves. This may be because they started cultivating their crops before a forest was classified as protected. Or they may have bought the land in good faith. While poverty, climate change and a rising population may be factors in pushing the cultivation of cocoa from surrounding areas to the forest reserve, growing numbers are breaking the law to plant it.
For communities currently farming in Cavally Forest Reserve, there are neighbouring, bigger and more suitable lands to plant on, where agricultural activities are permitted. The challenge will be to ensure farmers get an alternative piece of land to plant on that it is convenient for them and their families. But given cocoa plantations take two years to establish, it’s necessary to consider how they earn a living in the meantime. This could come through various incentives. [MM1]
The success of this project will depend on working together with communities on this forest frontier, government administration and other stakeholders, to design such incentives for farmers to leave their established farms within Cavally Forest. Forced removal risks further negative impact, conflict within the area, the potential clearing of forests elsewhere, not to mention the effect on the livelihood of the farmers planting within the reserve.
Promoting alternatives sources of income, identifying suitable land where local communities will accept newly arrived migrants and Ivorian farmers to plant cocoa, fostering rural entrepreneurship, working with farmers to understand how they might establish productive, well-run farms are key aspects of the innovative approach we are committed to. All of these require a deep understanding of the area and the people involved. We will dedicate the initial phase of the project to building a greater understanding and trust between the actors.
Tackling deforestation in Cavally is a complex challenge, one that will affect thousands of cocoa farmers. It is a challenge Earthworm Foundation and its partners are committed to, while respecting those farmers implicated in doing so. We look forward to updating you on the progress made on this work.