In Soubré - capital of the Nawa region in south-western Ivory Coast - Earthworm Foundation, Nestlé, Godiva, Pro Fair Trade and SIPEF-CI (Société Internationale de Plantations et de Finances - Côte d'Ivoire) are working with small oil palm and cocoa farmers.
Small agricultural and food producers need support
In Soubré, 69 percent of cocoa plantations are between two and five hectares. Eighty-five percent of oil palm plantations are between one and five hectares.
This means that most cocoa bean and oil palm production is in the hands of smallholders, who inadvertently put pressure on soils and natural resources. This negatively affects natural and protected areas.
Soubré has a single palm oil production plant - the SIPEF-CI. This is where all the smallholders in the area deliver their produce. Numbering in the range of 3200 to 3300, they supply up to 60 percent of the palm fruit delivered to SIPEF-CI.
Since 2015, SIPEF-CI has begun the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) certification process to adhere to international sustainability standards. This commitment requires them to reconcile the drive for high production quantities with environmental considerations and respecting the rights of local communities.
“We need to produce our palm oil in a way that is considerate of people living here; as the plantations are directly set in their villages. Our activities shouldn’t negatively impact the social and environmental well-being of the population,” said Carmen Wandja, who is in charge of implementing RSPO standards at SIPEF-CI.
This isn’t always easy, as smallholders face challenges with financial independence and food security. It is therefore necessary to provide them with technical assistance to improve their resilience.
Helping farmers become more resilient
Rurality - Eathworm's farmer resilience programme - was launched in Ivory Coast with financial support from Nestlé and Pro Fair Trade. It is founded upon the three pillars of traceability, improving producers’ quality of life and protection of the environment.
Traceability is a requirement in the palm oil supply chain, aiming to reveal the path of the product. This way, the processing plant can be certain that the product does not come from sensitive conservation areas. It can also improve its services towards the smallholders.
Mapping plantations is an important step in establishing traceability, “giving the processing plant the necessary information to identify producers and better organise its supply chain,” explained Zotahon, Earthworm’s field technician.
Since early January 2021, more than 4,000 plantations - the entire supply chain of SIPEF-CI's Ottawa plant - have been geo-referenced. Eight hundred plantation boundaries have also been mapped by the Earthworm team in collaboration with coordinators from SIPEF-CI and cooperatives.
The traceability work was accompanied by support for producers to improve their livelihoods. To date, more than 600 farming families have benefited from this.
Improving the quality of the environment and forests
The Soubré region is full of protected areas threatened by agriculture.
“We have the Tai National Park which is to the west, the classified forest of Niégré to the south-east, the classified forest of the Grah Rapids to the south and north, the classified forest of the Kourabayi mountains. These forests are infiltrated a lot by cocoa producers," explained Eléonore N’Gbesso Tanoh, who leads our work with farmers in Ivory Coast.
Earthworm's field team is helping farmers introduce trees in cocoa plantations located inside the classified forests of the Kourabayi and Niégré mountains. Outside the forests, the team encourages cocoa farmers to plant forest tree species in their plantations.
Issouf Diarrassouba and Amara Bakouan are both farmers who plant cocoa and oil palm. After meeting with the Earthworm field team, they decided to practice agroforestry on their cocoa farms.
Diarrassouba is in the early stages but remains hopeful that agroforestry will benefit his plantation. Amara has been practicing agroforestry since 2014. Two of his neighbors have followed suit.
To convince as many growers as possible to practice agroforestry, Earthworm is working with the state forest management agency, SODEFOR (Société de Développement des Forêts de Côte d'Ivoire). This involves reaching out to communities bordering the classified forests of the Kourabahi Mountains and Niégré. The idea going forward is to create village committees for reforestation and preserving forest relics.