Cocoa is the primary source of income in southern Cameroon, where it represents 48% of the total agricultural land use. In this and other tropical regions, the way cocoa agroforests are managed matters immensely to livelihoods – but also to the climate.
Cocoa agroforests vary widely in terms of tree composition and structure, but, until recently, few studies had been conducted to understand how these differences impact carbon stocks. Meanwhile, irresponsible land management practices were not only seeing cocoa plantations fail to contribute to countries’ emissions reductions goals, but also cause massive forest degradation in countries such as the Côte D’Ivoire and Ghana, which are alone responsible for two-thirds of the world’s cocoa production. The ‘cocoa belt’ was becoming increasingly prone to deforestation and droughts, and cocoa landscapes in other high-producing countries in Asia and Latin America were following suit.
When the UNFCCC COP21 in Paris saw chocolate companies begin making deforestation-related commitments, the tide began to change in standards for the industry’s practices. It also then became imperative for scientists to generate knowledge to help the expected changes transform cocoa forest landscapes in the most beneficial ways.
In response, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) and partner organizations profiled the carbon stocks of cocoa agroforests in three southern Cameroonian ecological areas (Yaoundé, Mbalmayo and Ebolowa) and identified what types of plants and management systems boost carbon storage best.
“This knowledge is important to implement nationally determined contributions (NDC) to the global climate agenda and its measures to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) by promoting sustainable cocoa value chains,” says lead author and CIFOR senior scientist Denis Sonwa.
Since Paris, the world’s largest chocolate companies – Mars, Nestle, Ferraro to name a few – have come together in a variety of agreements, from an agreement signed by the Prince of Wales to a sectorial “Frameworks for Action” at COP23 in Bonn. The goal is to see their industry achieve net-zero deforestation and improve local livelihoods, and this research is a crucial step along the way.