Seventy percent of the world’s cocoa now comes from West Africa, where family-run farms have proliferated across the landscape in recent decades. Yet in a paradox, the spread of these nonnative cocoa trees often contributes to deforestation. Rather than planting cacao trees under a forest canopy that shades them, which is the traditional method in Latin America, farmers in Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Ghana often clear forest so they can plant more trees and achieve higher yields.
The practice has a down side for the both the cocoa trees and the environment. Preserving the natural shade would have allowed the cocoa trees to absorb more nutrients and would shelter them from the stresses of the full sun; the loss of natural forestland eliminates a carbon sink, contributing to concentrations of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Yet efforts are under way to both bolster cocoa production so that less land is needed for plantations and to reintroduce older farming practices that encourage healthier growth of the trees under forest shade. Those were among the goals of a recent World Cocoa Conference held in Abidjan, the Ivorian capital.