Worldwide demand is growing for cocoa products while production is under pressure from pests and diseases, unsustainable production practices and an adverse changing climate. In a world that is increasingly competing for finite resources, cocoa production will have to become more sustainable. A new book titled “Achieving sustainable cultivation of cocoa” reviews the scientific knowledge to address this challenge and work towards a climate-smart sector. Scientists at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) contributed a two-part chapter that discusses the potential impacts of climatic change both globally and in its main production region, West Africa.
World’s cocoa at risk of melting and drying up
On a global scale, current cocoa locations will likely experience temperatures that have not previously been observed. Historically, regions with average temperatures above 28 °C existed but nearly none of these had adequate precipitation for cocoa production. Therefore, it will be difficult to prepare for future climate change based on past experience. Controlled experiments in the literature focused on regional differences and implications for varietal choice but stopped short of researching the putative effects of future trends. Exceedingly high temperatures, therefore, pose an unknown risk to cocoa production.
Projections of precipitation change were highly uncertain at cocoa locations. The seasonal distribution and sufficient availability of precipitation is the dominant yield-determining factor. Increasing differences between dry and wet regions, years and seasons may, therefore, increase economic risks for cocoa producers and the sector. However, at global scale, no clear trend was found in projections. Increased drought risk in West Africa appeared to be more likely than favorable changes. Global climate projections are unlikely to improve in time to accurately guide adaptation measures with long lead time. Therefore, for adaptation, a focus should be on measures that increase the overall resilience of the production system to precipitation risk.
In West Africa, cocoa provides a livelihood for millions of people. It is often the main cash source for smallholder families that struggle daily to make a better life for their families and themselves. Adapting these farmers to climate change is at the same time trivial and highly complex: trivial, because most good agricultural practices, correctly applied, can provide resilience against shocks and help ensure sustainability for long-term changes.
However, developing individualized solutions for all cocoa households currently appears unfeasible, and smallholders commonly do not have the means to develop forward-looking solutions themselves. As a result, the risk of maladaptation or inefficient use of resources is high. The complexity is thus in the need to translate the crop- and site-specificity of climatic changes into actionable and understandable decision support. Scalable climate-smart technologies exist, but robust processes for large-scale interventions to support farmers need to be developed.
Recommendations for cocoa production in Ivory Coast
In the second part of the chapter, we developed recommendation domains to adapt cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire to climate change. The recommendation domains are based on a degree-of-impact concept that supports stakeholders to design and roll out locally adequate adaptation measures. The domains are easier to interpret for stakeholders than previous impact assessments, but are equally methodologically robust. To develop the domains, we combined a data-driven method with a participatory validation process. The resulting maps were in line with state-of-the-art climate impact assessments, but additionally relate to local perceptions of cocoa ecological zones and production systems. As a result, the domains are framed within local knowledge and are more acceptable and accessible than conventional work.
We differentiated zones by the degree of necessary adaptation effort. In a low-change scenario, adaptation can be incremental, using relatively minor interventions such integrated pest management, adjustment of shade levels and more generally, good agricultural practices. A higher degree of change requires a systemic adaptation using more shade trees, potentially drip irrigation, or a change of cocoa variety. The future climate in some zones currently growing cocoa was found to be unsuitable for that crop, and as a result a shift to other crops might need to be considered. Alternatively, an extensive production system with a high degree of functional shade and income diversification may be necessary.
Additionally, we point out zones where global climate models do not exhibit the necessary degree of agreement to support specific technological packages and where emphasis should be put on increasing the resilience of producers.
Thus, one of the challenges for climate-smart cocoa production is scale. Implementation of practices in lighthouse projects through sustainability initiatives constitutes the first step towards dissemination to the hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers in remote regions. Widespread adoption will require the inclusion of actors along the entire value chain including policy makers, processors, traders and local organizations to provide producers with the right incentives to reduce the overall vulnerability of the cocoa sector to climate change. This approach means moving beyond individual responses and identifying leverage points for more systemic change. Clearly, this challenge cannot be successfully met by one actor alone in one geography.
The major challenge for the cocoa sector remains how to coordinate better, change incentive structures in commercial and political relationships rapidly and at sufficient scale to get in front of the projected impacts from climate change. Without successful collective action, the widespread establishment of resilient cocoa systems able to thrive under future climates remains doubtful.
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Postdoctoral Scientist-Sustainable Food Systems