Cocoa Farmers in Côte d’IvoireCôte d’Ivoire produces 35 percent of all cocoa, making it the largest cocoa producer in the world. A majority of cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire, however, live below the poverty line. Within the past couple of years, a financial crisis within the cocoa sector has worsened conditions for cocoa farmers. Improving financial inclusion and increasing yields could become ways to bring cocoa farmers out of poverty.

In 2017, the cocoa crisis left many farmers without pay for their work. George Koffi Kouame, a 50-year-old cocoa farmer, told the BBC that he had delivered 1.8 tons of cocoa and had not been paid. This is the result of plummeting cocoa prices, which led up to 80 percent of cocoa buyers to terminate their contracts with farmers.

Living Conditions

However, even without this crisis, most cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire are struggling. As a condition of their poverty, many lack adequate access to education, healthcare and drinking water.

Only 43 percent of farming communities observed in a study by Barry-Callebaut, a major chocolate manufacturer, had a health facility in their village. For 54 percent of the communities, the nearest health facility was, on average, 12 kilometers away, a little over seven miles.

Additionally, 25 percent of villages did not have a primary school, with 22 percent of villages having no school at all. While 87.4 percent of villages had a primary school located within five kilometers, having a school in each village ensures that education is accessible even to the most impoverished, as they may not have the means to travel for schooling.

Finally, access to safe drinking water is also a concern for some cocoa farmers. While 32 percent obtain some of their drinking water from the national water supply and 63 percent have access to pumped water, 5 percent of farming communities do not have access to either source. This suggests that they mainly drink surface water, which is more likely to be unsanitary.

Rural Côte d’Ivoire is in desperate need of better and more abundant schools and healthcare facilities, as well as access to drinkable water in certain villages. These changes would help improve the standard of living of cocoa farmers and their families more generally, potentially aiding in efforts to raise them out of poverty.

Financial Inclusion

Cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire are generally excluded from formal financial services. Rates for all residents of Côte d’Ivoire are high, with 53 percent of men and 64 percent of women lacking access to financial services.

Because of this, the crop cycle generally determines the financial lives of cocoa farmers. Cocoa farmers harvest from October to January and make their money for the year during this period. Then, from February to September, farmers must make the money they earned from this harvest last, as cocoa farming is the main source of income for most farmers.

If their money begins to run out during these months, many are forced to take informal loans with high-interest rates in order to make ends meet. Then, when the next harvest begins generating income, paying back these loans reduces their profit and makes it difficult to save money for the following year.

To improve the financial health of cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire and help them rise out of poverty, more financial products need to be available. Access to formal loans is incredibly important, as loans through the banking sector will have lower interest rates and be easier to repay. Many farmers would benefit from being able to get formal loans for school fees, as these are due before the harvest season has begun.

Additionally, education programs to teach farmers how to best manage their money in combination with access to savings accounts can help farmers become financially sustainable over time. Advans, an international microfinance group, has been working in Côte d’Ivoire since 2015, helping farmers set aside money for the future.

Crop Yields

Another solution, proposed by Barry-Callebaut, is to help farmers increase their crop yields, thereby increasing their income. Farmers sometimes do not use pesticides and fertilizers, decreasing their cocoa yields, partly due to low access to financial services. Improving access to financial services, as well as implementing educational programs for farmers to help them learn better agricultural practices, has the potential to significantly increase farmers’ yields over time.

Overall, improving financial inclusion and crop yields has the potential to help cocoa farmers in Côte d’Ivoire rise out of poverty. Additionally, improving education, healthcare and drinking water access will improve their quality of life. As information about cocoa farming continues to be collected, this knowledge will hopefully be used to benefit impoverished farmers.

Sara Olk
Photo: Flickr

Push and Pull Strategy in East AfricaDeveloped by Kenya’s International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), the ‘Push-Pull’ strategy may sound like something from Dr. Dolittle, but it is actually an effective technique for increasing crop productivity without relying on expensive and damaging fertilizers and pesticides.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that a quarter of the under-nourished global population lives in sub-Saharan Africa. Many of these people are small-scale farmers, so most methods to increase their productivity would lead to massive gains in the fight against global hunger.

The ‘Push-Pull’ strategy is a technique that utilizes intercropping to increase yields by improving soil quality and protecting against pests. The concept is simple. Two of the primary threats to crops in sub-Saharan Africa are stemborers and Striga weeds. Stemborers are a type of moth that lay their eggs inside the stems of crop plants. This pest has been known to destroy up to 80% of small farmers’ crop yields. The other main concern for farmers in the region is the Striga weed. This weed is parasitic and stunts crop growth, which can mean a loss of 30-100% of yields.

The combination of these two threats alone can lead to $7 billion annually in damages from lost crops. Rather, though, than turn to expensive pesticides and herbicides to neutralize these threats, ‘Push-Pull’ focuses on more sustainable methods. In order to reduce damage from stemborers, repellant plants are interspersed within the primary crop. One such example is the plant desmodium, the presence of which discourages stemborers from the crop. Additionally, a plant that attracts the pests, such as Napier grass, is planted in a border around the field. Thus, the stemborers are simultaneously repelled from the actual crop while being attracted to the border. Along with serving to deter stemborers, desmodium also has the added benefit of producing a substance that interferes with the germination of Striga seeds, effectively eliminating this weed from crop fields.

Benefits of the ‘Push-Pull’ technique go beyond those of just natural pesticide and herbicide. Desmodium, being a cover crop, can be plowed back into the soil after harvest, raising the nutrient content of the soil. Meanwhile, Napier grass can serve as a feed crop for livestock as well as assisting in erosion control via its root system.

To date, more than 50,000 East African farmers have implemented the ‘Push-Pull’ system. Remarkably, this change has resulted in triple-the-average maize yields of previous practices. ICIPE plans to expand the practice throughout sub-Saharan Africa, educating and training farmers to take advantage of this revolutionary technique.

– David Wilson

Sources: Push-Pull, Food Security, Christian Science Monitor
Photo: Flickr