Agroforestry is the key to higher yields and longevity of cocoa trees, according to Ghanaian cocoa farmer

Agroforestry is the key to higher yields and longevity of  cocoa trees, according to Ghanaian cocoa farmer

Ghana - 24 October, 2018

While Cocoa Agroforestry is being touted in recent times as the solution to combating deforestation driven by the conversion of forests into farmlands, fueled in part by the expansion of monoculture cocoa farms, Madam Gladys Adjei, a 52-year-old veteran cocoa farmer, says cocoa agroforestry also holds the key to obtaining higher yields and prolonging the lifespan of cocoa trees.

Madam Adjei, a native of Paboase in the Bibiani Forest District of the Western Region of Ghana who has been cultivating cocoa for the past 32 years says planting cocoa trees within timber tree species used to be the norm when she was a child. Her parents never cleared the timber trees on their land to plant cocoa trees but rather cultivated them under the shade of these trees.

Speaking in an interview, she said, “My parents used to cultivate cocoa among the timber species on our farms and the yield from cocoa was higher back then” She attributed the higher yields to the shade or micro-climate generated by the timber trees which protected the cocoa trees from the high temperatures of the scorching tropical sun.

She said this was back in the 1970s and her parents continued to cultivate their cocoa on the same piece of land using the ‘Tetteh Quarshie’ (Amelonado) cocoa variety.

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However, years later, following the introduction of a new hybrid of cocoa by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA), farmers were advised to cut down all the timber trees on their farms to enable the new breed to thrive. This move ushered in the new era of cocoa monoculture.

Unlike the ‘Tetteh Quarshie’ variety which requires five years to start bearing pods, the hybrid variety had a faster maturity rate and bore pods after just three years, much to the excitement of cocoa farmers. In addition, the hybrid variety produced far more pods after three to four years, requiring farmers to prop up the cocoa trees with poles to help them bear the weight of the pods.

The excitement of farmers however was short lived.

“The yield from the Hybrid variety starts to drop drastically after six to seven years and comes to a halt after 10 years”, says Madam Adjei. “The farm that I cultivated using this variety no longer bears pods. On the other hand, the Tetteh Qaurshie variety can still bear high quality pods even after 40 to 60 years.”

“The cocoa trees that my parents cultivated under the big timber trees such as the Odum tree (Milicia excelsa) are still bearing high quality pods up to date. These cocoa trees are over 60 years old. I attribute their longevity to the fact that they were cultivated under these timber shade trees which have over the years protected them from the scorching sun. Cocoa trees are very sensitive to sunlight. Their leaves tend to shrivel and die when exposed to high temperatures.”

While Madam Adjei agrees that the short lifespan of the hybrid variety may be due to the breed, she is of the view that stripping cocoa farms of all timber tree species was never a good idea and blames their early demise on the lack of a fovourable microclimate due to the absence of shade trees as well as their over-exposure to the scorching sun over the years which eventually led to their death.

“I realised that the cocoa trees on my neighbour’s farm who chose not to cut down his timber trees were doing much better than mine; they were healthier and bore more pods. I also realised that even on my parents’ farm, those cocoa trees which have survived up to date are those under the timber trees. From one tree, you can gather four baskets of cocoa pods. Those that were not under timber trees have now perished. I have since made the decision never to cut down the timber trees on my farm.”

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Madam Adjei pointed out that not all crops can be inter-cropped with cocoa trees; certain crops stunt their growth and eventually kill them instead of helping them to thrive.

“For instance, cultivating palm trees with cocoa trees is not a good idea. The palm trees kill the cocoa trees. In addition, if you plant cocoa trees on land that was previously used for cultivating palm trees, even after ten years, the trees will die. You can successfully cultivate cocoa on land that was previously used for palm cultivation only after 15 to 20 years”, she said.

Madam Adjei’s experience with cocoa agroforestry proves that people living in forest fringe communities do not need to clear forest trees before establishing their cocoa farms and serves as a learning experience and an example for other farmers in Ghana to emulate. In addition, her parents’ farm where over 60-year-old cocoa trees are still thriving could serve as a model farm for the promotion of cocoa agroforestry.

Madam Adjei was one of 19 community monitors from six communities in the Bibiani and Wiawso Forest Districts on a peer learning visit to Breku and Bonkro in the Edubiase Forest District on October16 and 17, 2018. The two-day visit was organised by Tropenbos Ghana as part of the EU financed project “Strengthening the capacity of non-state actors to improve FLEGT-VPA and REDD+ processes in Western Africa by the Non-State Actors”. 

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