Agroforestry in the cocoa sector - A need for ambitious collaborative landscape approaches

Agroforestry in the cocoa sector - A need for ambitious collaborative landscape approaches

the Netherlands - 14 September, 2020

Cocoa agroforestry systems can bring a wide range of ecological benefits; biodiversity conservation of flora and fauna, carbon sequestration, preserving and strengthening soil moisture and fertility, contributing to pest control, and microclimatic control such as stimulating rainfall, and many other benefits. However, a large gap separates the current reality of agroforestry in the cocoa sector from its potential, and agroforestry should not replace forest areas, nor can simplified agroforestry be a substitute for more diverse agroforestry systems.

In an effort to reduce the gap, the Cocoa Barometer and the VOICE Network approached Tropenbos International to collaborate in a position paper on agroforestry in cocoa producing landscapes.

A joint paper

The paper is a joint collaboration with various experts on agroforestry. Elsa Sanial, a PhD student on cocoa agroforestry systems in Côte d’Ivoire and with extensive experience from West Africa. Johanna Jacobi from the Centre of Development and Environment from the University of Bern and Ruth Bennett, PhD and Research Fellow at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, both with extensive knowledge on agroforestry in cocoa from Latin America. Maartje de Graaf of Tropenbos International and Eric Mensah a research fellow at University of Hohenheim, both with extensive knowledge of Ghana and the cocoa sector. And VOICE Network members Julia Christian, Etelle Higonnet, Friedel Huetz-Adams and Antonie Fountain, the latter who did much work to help shape this paper. Alex Armstrong at Mighty earth did a wonderful job to design the online version of the paper. The audience targeted by this paper is the cocoa sector itself and all those supporting cocoa farmers and cooperatives in sustainable cocoa production.


The paper highlights shortcomings in current industry and government approaches to agroforestry in cocoa. It also suggests a way forward to ensure that cocoa agroforestry delivers on its promise of environmental sustainability while contributing to farmers’ livelihoods. And it proposes basic parameters of integrated agroforestry cocoa standards on both farm and landscape scale and sets forward recommendations for all actors in the supply chain. The main conclusion is that agroforestry in cocoa needs to be approached from a landscape perspective and that the burden for environmental sustainability should not be left just with the farmer. Present efforts by the cocoa sector in promoting agroforestry are largely insufficient and may not be successful.

Next step

Our work has only started. There is a need to bring to evidence and real-time experiences of cocoa-agroforestry systems from West and Central Africa and Latin America. During the coming months Tropenbos International will work with an extended network of practitioners and specialists to document promising practices and the does and don’ts in the art of designing successful agroforestry systems in cocoa producing regions.

Both online and pdf versions of the paper can be downloaded through VOICE weblink

VOICE network is a global network of NGOs and Trade Unions working on sustainability in cocoa, tackling issues such as poverty, deforestation and child labour. We bring together most of the civil society organisations in the cocoa sector. Our key work is around advocacy and research, speaking truth to power for the global chocolate industry.