Demand for chocolate drives deforestation in West Africa

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Cocoa production doubled between 1987 and 2007 mostly fuelled by clearing forest areas, resulting in large losses of biodiversity and high carbon emissions. Photo courtesy of Bill Zimmerman/flickr

IBADAN, Nigeria (7 April 2011)_Rampant deforestation and degradation of West Africa’s tropical forest area is occurring due to the expansion of smallholder cocoa farms that depend on environmentally destructive practices like slash-and-burn and land clearing.

According to a new study by researchers at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), farmers could have achieved the same outputs through the intensified use of fertilizer and improved crop husbandry. And this will have significant impacts on REDD+ implementation in the area.

The Guinean Rainforest (GRF) of West Africa, identified over 20 years ago as a global biodiversity hotspot, had reduced to 18% of its original area at the start of the new millennium. This region is famous for its cocoa production with Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon accounting for 70% of global cocoa supply for the last 20 years.

Recent figures show that West Africa’s cocoa production doubled between 1987 and 2007 with most of this increase fuelled by clearing forest areas, resulting in large losses of biodiversity and high carbon emissions.

Researchers at IITA found that increasing fertilizer use on cocoa-timber farms would have spared roughly 2 million hectares of tropical forest from being cleared or severely degraded. On average, farmers are using less than 4kg of total nutrients per hectare in the region.

“The limited use of fertilizer may have been logical in 1960, when West African populations were only 25% of today’s levels and forestland was still relatively abundant. That choice is no longer tenable in a context where only 15 to 20 percent of the Guinean rainforest remains,” said Jim Gockowski, a co-author of the study.

“There are no longer any frontier forests in West Africa for future generations to exploit,” he said.

But not only are there benefits for the environment. The study found that farmers would have doubled their incomes by using less environmentally destructive farming methods. Under the proposed REDD+ scheme, a forest preserving program using financial incentives to reduce deforestation, the carbon emissions generated from the destruction of this forest – 1.3 billion tons – would be valued at over 1.6 million dollars.

Funding support for REDD+ projects offers the potential to support the transformation of traditional agriculture in West Africa through investments in agricultural research and extension. REDD funds could be used to incentivise and promote agricultural intensification efforts that would lead to higher rural incomes, greater food security, and avoided emissions through the achievement of higher agricultural yields.

One such effort is the “Fertilisers for Forests” program which is developing ways to sustainably intensify cocoa production and has achieved impressive yield increases on a limited scale in parts of the GRF. A significant proportion of REDD+ funding should be used to increase the adoption of the “fertilizers for forest” mitigation program. The value of avoided carbon emissions are conservatively estimated at $565 per hectare for achieving the envisaged doubling of yields.

Says Gockowski, “There is a risk that REDD+ interventions will only be implemented within the forestry sector, while extensive low input agriculture – the fundamental driver of deforestation in West Africa and the root cause of most rural poverty – gets neglected. This would be a mistake in tackling global carbon emissions in West Africa.”

Read CIFOR’s press release here.

 

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