Cocoa is big in my village. Growing cocoa is one of the few legitimate ways to bring money into the community, and the money from growing cocoa pays for everything in some peoples lives from baby clothes to school fee's, a wedding, a house, retirement, and a funeral. Cocoa is development. It is something that Cameroon actually produces and exports which is really important when such a huge percentage of the economy is based on foreign aid. Cocoa is something that people understand, and something people are willing to work with instead of sitting around waiting for a hand-out.
Before arriving in this country I did not know the first thing about cocoa cultivation, but since it is one of the few things that people here have a genuine interest in I have started to work with it quite a bit. I am starting to think about going back to school for tropical agriculture, and getting a job working with cocoa. In other words it is something I am really into, so this post might be a bit boring for anyone who is not as into cocoa farming as I am (i.e. almost everyone).
|I could probably live in a house like this in the middle of a cocoa farm forever, but I am a bit weird.|
A cocoa tree remains productive for about 25-30 years. Unfortunately all of the cocoa farms here are at the end of their productive lives, and the village of Bikoka/Bibondi which at one point was the second biggest producer in the sub-arrondisement of Lolodorf (I got this statistic from Auguste, God knows if its true) now produces comparatively very little. Unfortunately neither the means, nor the expertise to regenerate these farms really existed.
There are a lot of organizations that work with cocoa, the big one is SODECAO here in Cameroon. The way that SODECAO works with cocoa is to come into a community for one season, build a great big nursery, and sell seedlings at a subsidized price. There are a few reasons that model doesn't work here. First and foremost, the cocoa farms are way out in the middle of the forest, and transporting a large number of plants 10 k into the jungle is just about impossible. The other reason is that the variety that SOCECAO promotes is a Brazilian strain that has extremely high production, but is also extremely susceptible to disease, and insects. That is fine for large scale producers who have the money to regularly treat their farms with insecticides, and fungicides, but for small scale farmers its not the best choice.
|Cocoa pods early in their development|
Because of that I decided to partner with IRAD (Institut de Recherche Agricole pour le Développement / Institute of Agricultural Research for Development) to bring Marcel, an expert on cocoa cultivation to Bibondi for a seminar that would teach farmers here how to set up and maintain a nursery. That means that farmers can set up their own nurseries next to their farms and only have to carry the bare necessities of polypots, seeds, and insecticide/fungicide out into the forest. That also means they don't have to wait for SODECAO to come around, not to mention if done correctly you can produce high quality seedlings for about half the subsidized price because you are doing all the work yourself. IRAD will also be providing improved varieties of cocoa seeds for a subsidized price to the village. These are hybrids between German, and Brazilian strains that have higher yields, but are heartier.
|Marcel during a presentation. He was really great at the seminar, and will be helping me in the future on technical stuff.|
|Marcel doing some demonstrations in the nursery we set up for the cocoa project|
As I said cocoa is big here, so just about everyone I talked to said they where interested in coming to the seminar. This gave me no small amount of grief in trying to plan it because I was expecting anywhere from 20 to 200 people to come. My best estimate was 50 so that’s what we planned on for food and everything. 63 people ended up coming which was a pretty good turn out, and luckily we didn't run out of food or anything. I said in my previous post none of the work I do would be possible without Auguste and Florence, and that was especially true for this seminar. It was hosted at Auguste's house, and he took care of all the logistics, and protocol that is apparently necessary to do anything here. Florence did all of the cooking, no small feat for that many people, and even made a dish with Soy which was a nice touch.
All in all I think the seminar went great, but it is just the start of my work with cocoa. Now I have to make sure and get the improved seeds, and all the other necessities to the farmers, go out to their farms to answer questions, and help set up nurseries. I have orders for supplies to produce just under 12,000 seedlings which when planted will be 10 new or regenerated hectares of cocoa in production. If everything is done right this could increase the cocoa harvest of the village by 10-20 tons a year. Depending on the price of cocoa that would gross about 20,000 to 40,000 dollars a season.
|A few people left before we could get a group photo|
I mentioned using insecticides and fungicides which I know some people might have objections to, but it is only in the nursery stage when the plants are highly susceptible. For anyone worried about the environmental effects of cocoa farming here is a study that was actually done in Southern Cameroon on the system used in Bikoka/Bibondi. The study basically concludes that when produced in a traditional forest garden the effects of cocoa production on biodiversity are light, and socioeconomic gain possible in most cases outweigh them.