Christian Mensah–the Rainforest Alliance’s sustainable landscapes manager in West Africa–takes us on a sustainability journey to Nigeria where we are introducing cocoa farmers to Rainforest Alliance certification.
Having arrived in the Iperindo community, I can report that sustainability is taking hold among cocoa farmers in Nigeria. The farmers are not only implementing sustainable practices defined in the Sustainable Agriculture Standard [the standard which all Rainforest Alliance Certified farms are audited against], but also working together to empower their members and enable them to negotiate better in the market.
I received a rousing welcome from the local cocoa farmers, complete with drumming and dancing in a street procession. It is the first time I have seen an emerging cocoa group that is gender sensitive, with women farmers dominating in number and actively participating in group decision-making. It was such a wonderful scene to watch. The group is a good blend of youth who are producing cocoa together in a harmonized way. This has taken away some of my fears in an industry characterized by aging farmers and aging trees. It was a pleasant experience for me to have been welcomed in a cocoa producing area by no less a person than the Paramount King of Ipole Kingdom, Oba Gabriel Adelagan Popoola.
COFA (Conservation cOcoa Farmers Association) is an emerging cocoa cooperative in the Ondo, Osun and Cross River States of Nigeria. The farmers made a choice last year to work together as a group to improve their production activities and income, to farm in the most efficient way for nature, to provide services to their members and to trade as a block in order to better leverage the market.
Supported by Conservation Alliance and in partnership with the Rainforest Alliance, the farmers have been receiving training to improve their farming and develop their organization. This has been possible through the implementation of our Global Environment Facility—United Nations Environmental Programme (GEF-UNEP) project “Greening the Cocoa Industry” launched in 2012 in Nigeria. It is expected that with support, these local farmers they will be in the best position to devise solutions to their problems, improve their productivity and income, contribute directly to the protection of their environment, improve gender equity and secure a sustainable livelihood for their families.
Farmer-owned and farmer-administered groups are no longer a common feature in the cocoa landscape in Nigeria. Because of past direct involvement and control by local government in cooperative development and management, corrupt leaders and lack of leadership skills among farmers, cocoa farmers have lost interest in becoming incorporated. As a result, farmers have not seen much improvement in their livelihoods for many years. Farmers are not enabled to adopt and implement sustainable production methods and to replant and rehabilitate their farms. Governance and management capacities of emerging farmer groups are not developed and strengthened and the sector has not fostered the vertical integration of cocoa farmers in the cocoa sector governance structures.
As his royal majesty Oba Gabriel Adelagan Popoola remarked,”Farmers need to be supported to change practices on the farm and invest into hybrid varieties, replanting and rehabilitation of farms, have access to inputs and be equipped with the knowledge and skills to implement best practices.” This, according to his royal majesty, is the first most important approach to taking farmers out of poverty as higher productivity–what farms actually produce–is the largest variable in the income of a farmer in the area. This also enables farmers to take ownership and responsibility of the resources available in the community.
The trend is changing and COFA appears to be leading the way with member farmers’ continued commitment to the group. The farmers are committed to improving the situation of their farms and giving their customers the guarantee that the cocoa beans used to make chocolate are sustainably sourced from a place where sustainable livelihoods are ensured.
Fortunately for COFA and in alignment with our Greening the Cocoa Industry project implementation plan, there is a private sector partner behind these efforts that is supporting and enabling the development of the sustainable cocoa supply chain. Crystal Green Global Services is committed to supporting COFA directly with certification assistance and the establishment of a long-term sustainable sourcing plan. The farmers seem eager to now meet the Sustainable Agriculture Network Standards, earn Rainforest Alliance certification, and win the right to use its widely recognized mark to promote their commitment to sustainability.
As I was leaving the community to begin my three-week training trek in Nigeria, I thought about the COFA anthem. Indeed, COFA is “born and it belongs to the farmers.” I hope COFA members will continue to join hands and work toward becoming a great farmer cooperative.
I will tell you more about my sustainability trip in the coming three weeks.