COCOA LIFE DELIVERS 100,000 TREE SEEDLINGS IN GHANA
By Alison Branch, Senior Group Leader, Cocoa Life Technology Platform at Mondelēz International - 06/17/15
During a meeting in Ghana two years ago, farming community leaders described a potential crisis: Their aging cocoa trees were dying, and many of the seedlings they planted to replace them —30 to 50 percent— weren't surviving.
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So Cocoa Life program director Cathy Pieters and I agreed to put a replanting program into action. It's been a busy two years: This May, June, and July, Cocoa Life is delivering 100,000 high-quality seedlings to farmers in 48 local communities.
Currently, seed pods are received from the seed production unit and raised in community nurseries. However, seeds are only available during the same window as the cocoa harvest, which means cocoa communities often lack the time and resources to cultivate these seeds into robust plants.
A cocoa tree's health depends on how it's treated during infancy. Together with our partner Tree Global, an international tree nursery business, and local community leaders, we constructed a state-of-the-art nursery on 5 acres (2 hectares) of land in the town of Tafo. In this controlled, pest-free environment, cocoa plants are grown from seeds and provided with nutrients, irrigation, and fertilizer. As a result, these seedlings are much hardier than those that the farmers raise themselves, or those that they receive locally.
Our seedlings are roughly twice the height of a standard seedling, with a much larger root mass. That's important, because farmers in Ghana struggle for access to irrigation. Longer roots mean that a seedling can reach further down into the soil for moisture, making it more likely to survive a dry spell.
Based on previous projects, we estimate that 90 percent of these seedlings will grow into healthy trees. They’re also expected to produce more cocoa pods, increasing overall crop yields. This will benefit the entire cocoa supply chain, helping farmers net a higher income and providing suppliers with greater access to high-quality cocoa.
I'm proud of how far we’ve come in such a short time, and the response has been encouraging. Farmers can tell by appearance alone that they've received quality plants. Some have even brought these valuable seedlings into their homes to protect them until planting them. We're also instructing farmers on how to best plant and care for these seedlings as part of Cocoa Life's goal to provide cocoa growing communities with improved planting materials.
After monitoring the progress over the next two to three years, we plan on bringing this project to scale. Although 100,000 seedlings sounds like a lot, it’s just a drop in the ocean when it comes to the numbers required to replant the cocoa tree population in Ghana. We hope to start similar pilot programs in Cote d’Ivoire and Indonesia by the end of 2015, with the first seedlings ready for delivery by this time next year. This is just the first step in ensuring the future of cocoa farming communities for generations to come.