A ‘Green Revolution’ in the West African cocoa belt

Jim Gockowski (j.gockowski@cgiar.org), Ranjana Bhattacharjee, Richard Asare, and Sander Muilerman
J. Gockowski, Agricultural Economist, IITA, Ghana; R. Bhattacharjee, Molecular Geneticist, IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria; R. Asare, Cocoa Agroforester; S. Muilerman, Associate Professional Officer, IITA, Ghana

Red-podded cocoa, Cameroon. Photo by IITA.
Red-podded cocoa, Cameroon. Photo by IITA.
Over two-thirds of global cocoa production comes from small farms carved out of the humid forests of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon in West Africa. Cacao in West Africa was introduced in the late 1800s and the production of cocoa was, and still remains, largely a small-holder enterprise. Today, the large majority of West African cocoa farmers are aging and struggling with aging tree stocks on depleted soils that exhibit low and declining yields. In contrast, the rapid expansion of intensified cocoa production systems through the High Tech Program (HTP) of the Ghana Cocoa Marketing Board (Cocobod) over the last 10 years has resulted in productivity gains that appear to rival those of wheat during the Indian Green Revolution (Fig. 1).

Over the last 10 years, IITA and various stakeholders in the cocoa belt have been developing cocoa innovations and sharing knowledge through the Sustainable Tree Crops Program (STCP). The HTP is credited for having demonstrated the technical feasibility of a Green Revolution in the Ghanaian farm sector.

Structural overview of a Brown Revolution
Recent STCP studies attribute impressive yield gains over the last 10 years to a combination of factors. A three-fold increase in the global price of cocoa that occurred simultaneously with the establishment of Cocobod and the reform of producer price policy resulted in much higher producer prices as compared to the previous decade. Higher farm-gate prices combined with Cocobod subsidies on fertilizers and pesticides greatly improved the profitability of input use. In less than 10 years, fertilizer use in the Western Region of Ghana rose from less than 6% to over 80% of cocoa farmers.

Figure 1. A comparison of yield growth per hectare during the initial phases of the Indian Green Revolution in wheat (1966 to 1975) and the Ghanaian Green Revolution in cocoa (2002 to 2011). Data source: FAOSTAT production statistics accessed online 16 February 2012.
Figure 1. A comparison of yield growth per hectare during the initial phases of the Indian Green Revolution in wheat (1966 to 1975) and the Ghanaian Green Revolution in cocoa (2002 to 2011). Data source: FAOSTAT production statistics accessed online 16 February 2012.
The increased use of fertilizer was the largest estimated factor that contributed to productivity gains in the sector. Improved farmer access to fertilizers resulted from the liberalization of internal cocoa marketing. As a result of this reform, private licensed buying companies were allowed to compete for the purchase of the farmers’ dried cocoa. The ensuing competition was not in terms of the farm-gate price paid (Cocobod sets a pan-territorial producer price) but rather in the supply of inputs including fertilizers to farmers. These inputs are most often provided as an in-kind loan linked to the future sale of the farmers’ cocoa to the buyer. Another important factor underlying the productivity gains explained in Figure 1 has been the intensified control of cocoa pests and diseases achieved by the US$40 million in annual expenditures of the Cocoa Disease and Pest Control (CODAPEC) program.

Other innovations such as cocoa hybrids developed by the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG) were estimated to be four times more productive than locally selected planting materials but were only planted on a small proportion of farms. Likewise, farmer field school (FFS) training was received by only a small proportion of farmers but the mean output was 52% higher among those farmers as compared to those who did not receive such training, all other things being equal.

In the light of these findings, cocoa productivity growth in Ghana can further increase by continued increases in fertilizer use and intensified pest and disease control, particularly outside the Western region. There is also much to be gained from improving farmer access to hybrid planting materials and to scaling up participatory farmer training approaches.

Among the lessons drawn from the first 10 years of the cocoa Brown Revolution are the critical importance of (1) a government-supported vision for the subsector; (2) supportive producer price policy; (3) affordable and unproblematic access to inputs; (4) profitable technologies; and (5) farmer training. As seen in Ghana, research has a critical role in developing and sustaining profitable technologies and in generating knowledge that small-holders are able and willing to act upon.

Research will help bring about a Brown Revolution in West Africa. Photo by IITA.
Research will help bring about a Brown Revolution in West Africa. Photo by IITA.
Agenda for sustainable intensification in West and Central Africa
Limited access of farmers to extension, fertilizers, and improved planting materials were among the major technical constraints revealed by a 2001/2002 baseline survey of the cocoa sector conducted by the STCP. While progress has been made in Ghana, there still remain the principal constraints to the achievement of a Brown Revolution across West Africa.

Improving access to improved planting material
Improving farmers’ access to high-quality planting material has been the focus of the STCP-supported African Cocoa Breeders Working Group (ACBWG) since 2003. The working group collaborated with cocoa breeding programs of the US Department of Agriculture and Mars, and received regional backstopping and training from IITA. The ACBWG has characterized cocoa germplasm from farmers’ fields and research stations which has contributed to an understanding of the genetic diversity in West African cocoa germplasm. The study revealed mislabeling of cocoa germplasm in breeder collections and confirmed the low adoption of improved materials by the farmers in West Africa. The working group is currently using molecular breeding approaches to rapidly develop superior true-to-type genotypes with disease resistance and improved horticultural traits.

The delivery of existing improved planting materials to farmers remains a key constraint in West Africa. The low adoption of improved planting materials was thought to be due to poor awareness about the benefits of growing improved planting materials and high transaction costs in acquiring these materials. To address these constraints, the ACBWG joined the African Cocoa Initiative (ACI) of the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) to demonstrate the performance of improved planting materials and best agricultural practices under farmers’ field conditions and design and test innovative approaches that will increase adoption of improved germplasm. IITA provides technical support to the ACBWG in molecular breeding, develops training materials pertaining to replanting and rehabilitation of old and unproductive tree stocks, and provides assistance with seed brokerage systems developed and tested in Ghana by the STCP.

Integrated crop, pest, and disease management
The increased use of fertilizers and the intensified control of capsid insects by small-holders were the major factors underlying the productivity growth of the Ghanaian cocoa sector. The tonnage of granular fertilizer applied on cocoa rose from essentially zero in 2000/2001 to 130,000 t in 2009/2010. There is a need to develop diagnostic protocols for assessing nutrient balances, pest and disease pressure, yields, and economic returns that will lead to more profitable fertilizer and treatment recommendations tailored to the specificities of the farmers’ local environment. IITA has developed such a protocol for the coffee-banana systems of Eastern Africa and proposes adapting this diagnostic to the cocoa sectors in Nigeria and Cameroon. Major economic losses are also caused by capsid insects, black pod fungal disease, and cocoa swollen shoot virus disease. An integrated program of soil, pest, and disease management research is required to keep these constraints under control.

Training of trainers for cocoa farmers in Ghana. Photo by IITA.
Training of trainers for cocoa farmers in Ghana. Photo by IITA.
The STCP farmer field school program was designed and developed by scientists from IITA and the national research systems of Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Cameroon to address the extension constraint in 2003. Since then, more than 150,000 cocoa farmers have participated in FFS training. On average, the productivity gains following training have ranged from 15 to over 50% depending on the locality. The task, however, is not complete; evolution in knowledge and knowledge delivery technologies requires a continual effort to update and adapt extension approaches.

The technical and economic feasibility of Brown Revolution technology in the cocoa sector has been demonstrated. However, the long-run sustainability of the institutions and enterprises engaged in the generation and delivery of these technologies among all small-holder farmers is still an area of concern. Without bottom line profitability, small-holders will forgo inputs and revert to environmentally destructive practices which mine soil nutrients, result in unabated pest and disease losses, and lead to unnecessary deforestation. Research has a fundamental role to play in maintaining the profitability of these technologies.

Liberia and Ghana to develop agriculture

The governments of Ghana and the Republic of Liberia have officially agreed to jointly develop, promote, and implement research activities to improve their agricultural sectors.

A memorandum of understanding was signed by representatives of Ghana and Liberia, with the assistance of IITA’s Sustainable Tree Crops Program (STCP), in collaboration with the Ghana Cocoa Board. IITA/STCP works in both countries.

The agreement was signed by the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Kwabena Duffuor, and the Chief Executive of COCOBOD, Anthony Fofie, for Ghana, and by the Minister of Agriculture, Florence Chenoweth, and the Deputy Director General of the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), Abugarshall Kai on behalf of Liberia.

Under the MoU, the Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana and Liberia’s CARI will exchange expertise, knowledge, and genetic resources (seeds and nursery development) to develop and improve the tree crops sector in Liberia. Specifically, the national research institutions of both countries will facilitate the provision of planting material as requested by either countries, make available research and training facilities and materials to visiting scientists from either institution, and provide technical expertise for the successful implementation of mutually-agreed projects.

Jim Gockowski: Sustainable intensification of agriculture

Jim Gockowski
Jim Gockowski

Jim Gockowski is an agricultural economist with the Sustainable Tree Crops Program (STCP) based in IITA-Ghana.

About 15 years ago, the Rockefeller Science Foundation offered Jim the opportunity to work in any five of CGIAR centers. His wife’s passion for Africa and Cameroon in particular made the family to choose IITA. In this interview with Atser Godwin, Gockowski shares his experience as he works in Africa for Africa.

Tell us about your work.
When I first started with IITA in 1995, I was involved in the Alternative to Slash and Burn Program. This was a system-wide program looking at issues of deforestation along the forest margins and trying to come up with alternatives to extensive agriculture that uses the forest as an input in the production system. Also, beginning in 2000, we got involved with STCP, which is a public-private partnership between the global chocolate industry and USAID that is focused on the cocoa belt of West Africa and is working on sustainable improvement of livelihoods of cocoa- producing households.

What has been its impact?
We do lots of evaluation, and we try and do some policy work with our studies and findings.

The impact of the social sciences in the STCP and the Alternative to Slash and Burn Program has been on two levels: One is on policy levels that is providing information and evidence, and the impact of policies or in some cases the lack of policies on livelihoods, outcomes, and the environment.

The other impact is in helping to transfer developed products—basically knowledge on natural resources management—to farmers. We have done this through development of curriculums for farmers’ field schools. We are also involved with some of the climate negotiations around the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) initiative.

What have been the impacts of STCP?
We have trained over 120,000 farmers in five countries of West Africa. We have also worked with farmer organizations to strengthen their efforts through collective marketing with probably over 40,000 households being affected. These are probably two major impacts with the STCP. Farmers from the field school training have seen returns increased by between 40 and 43%.

What is REDD all about?
REDD is a means of reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. It was a coalition of rainforest countries that got together in 2007 at the conference of the parties of the Kyoto protocol. They put their REDD agenda on the negotiating table in terms of the climate negotiation. The basic concept is that as developing countries, they need to provide jobs for their people and one way that is historical is to convert the rainforest into production agriculture or other forms of earning livelihoods.

The REDD idea is the concept of economic compensation to countries with tropical rainforests for their foregone opportunities of not deforesting the rainforest.

IITA-STCP works with partners to improve the livelihoods of households in cocoa-based production systems in West Africa. Photo by S. David, IITA.
IITA-STCP works with partners to improve the livelihoods of households in cocoa-based production systems in West Africa. Photo by S. David, IITA.

What is the IITA project called Fertilizers-for-Forest (F4F)?
What we know in West and Central Africa is that agriculture is the principal driving force for deforestation and in particular the practice of slash and burn. When this happens, you get wood ash that is loaded with potassium and some trace amounts of nitrogen. The wood ash improves the soil but it is not a sustainable practice.

The idea of Fertilizers-for-Forest is really about sustainable intensification led by policy changes that would offer farmers an alternative to cutting down the forest and burning to get wood ash. The alternative is that instead of cutting the forest to get the biomass, let’s use fertilizers.

We believe that this type of intensification is necessary for preserving what is being left of the West African forest which is 18% of what it used to be. It is also one way that we can conserve the Congo basin rainforest.

How do you see IITA playing a role in mitigating the effects of climate change?
There are two ways that we can play a role. One is to support policy-led intensification projects by working with NARES partners and better soil fertility management options. This will take away pressure on the rainforest and help in reducing global warming. This is on the mitigation side. Again, we know that climate is getting warmer, with predictions that in the next 70 years, temperatures could rise by more than three degrees. We also know that agricultural productivity doesn’t respond positively to warmer temperatures hence there will be a reduction in yields. So we need to be focused on the climate response of our major production systems as it proceeds. It will be a gradual thing but we need to be strategic about it. We need to strategize.

On the adaptation side, we need to be working on drought-tolerant crops. We need to do adaptive research that would allow the African smallholder farmers to deal with a change in climate.

Another area is that of institutions. We have problems with our credit markets, crop insurance, and input markets. We need to strengthen these institutions and a government policy that favors the private sector approach that doesn’t distort markets.

What are some of the positive changes that you are seeing in Africa?
From a rural perspective, I have seen a lot of self-empowerment. I think this is happening because democracy is playing its role by giving the rural majority a voice and that voice is starting to be heard. Again, I don’t think it will be business as usual because the population is growing quite fast and we need to feed these teeming millions. We need to modernize agriculture and African farmers are beginning to demand those from their public servants.

What makes your work successful?
If I have made any success, it is due to diligence. If you work hard, I guess good things result. We have a wonderful institute with a lot of good scientists and all that I can say is that I have been fortunate to work with very good scientists.