It is a thick, hot winter in Côte d’Ivoire, and the gritty Harmattan winds have settled a Saharan haze over Abidjan. The exceptionally dry weather has started to harm the cocoa trees, and many are already predicting a smaller harvest later this year.
We have come from a week in Soubré, 5 hours drive or so (depending on the number of potholes you hit) from Abidjan, where Mars and several collaborators have begun constructing cocoa development centers in the main cocoa growing area of the country.
Over 3 days we visited 5 communities where CDCs have been or are currently being constructed, both to inspect the grafting and preparation work that has been done on farm demonstration plots as well as how the surrounding communities have begun to organize themselves.
Newly constructed Mars CDC at Petit Bondoukou
The community of Kipiri meets to discuss their development plan
Though the Harmattan has made it more difficult for some of the grafts to flourish, our resident cocoa rehabilitation and farmer liaison expert, Hussin is more than satisfied with the estimated average 75% success rate for the grafts. The first trees that were grafted nearly two years ago at Petit Bondoukou have already produced a few pods, and in the coming fall, those new branches should contribute a significant number of pods to the harvest.
But the demonstrations plots are still new, with grafted branches still taking hold, and the farmers will soon need to take a leap of faith and cut down the old treetops above the new grafts. For the farmers to be able to see how a grafted farm can perform next to a “typical” farm will be an important proof to make that leap of faith less difficult (for more info on farm rehabilitation, see here).
A successful graft
It’s not overly complicated or difficult, provided the right training, to prune a cocoa farm and arrange to have the trees grafted or to plant new, improved varieties under a crop of bananas or something else until the trees mature. What’s difficult is driving several hours through miles and miles of cocoa full of crowded old trees and realizing that each of the thousands of farmers in the area must be reached somehow. And all around us are other regions with many thousands of cocoa farmers and their families who depend on income from cocoa to live.
A few hundred rehabilitated trees are one thing, but to be successful, we will need to rehabilitate a few hundred million in the coming years. To take full advantage of that investment, we will also need to train those farmers to keep their farms healthy and make fertilizer and planting material available so that farmers are able to get as much as possible out of their land to produce a good livelihood for their families and communities.
And so it is in the communities that depend on cocoa. A water pump, a health center, a school, flat roads with drainage. Nobody is asking for television or a new car, but 10 minutes down the road from one community’s very reasonable list of aspirations is another. And another. And another. And another and another, until a herd of cattle stops the car at the charcoal heaps at the edge of the port city of San Pedro.
Steadily the Cocoa Development Centers are going up, and in many of the communities, there is a renewed optimism for a better future. But the change will come slowly, and for every success, we are conscious that several more challenges remain. These new goals must be measured in the years and the millions, and only if we can achieve, as an industry, this level of scale, will we be able to profit alongside the farmers at the beginning of our supply chain.
Will we succeed? Only time will tell.
To see photos of 4 Cocoa Development Centers and the surrounding communities, click on the links below.