Guest blog: Investing in Nature with the Cocoa Forest Project in Pará, Brazil
By Ligia Rechenberg, The Nature Conservancy
Deforestation has had a devastating impact on the Amazon and nowhere more so than in Pará, the state with the highest rate of deforestation in Brazil. Overall, 1.2 million hectares of forest have been lost there in last 5 years, mainly due to cattle ranching.
It is vital not just to reduce deforestation in the area, but to reverse it. As cocoa is a native species of the Amazon and thrives in the shade of bananas, hardwoods and other trees, there is an opportunity to restore 130,000 hectares of degraded pastureland through cocoa agroforestry, where new cocoa farms are planted alongside other native fruits to restore lost vegetation.
The benefits are not only environmental. Because Brazil is one of the world’s largest chocolate consumers, planting cocoa can also guarantee farmers a better income for them and their families. But many are being held back by a lack of technical assistance, market access and low rural credit access.
Since 2013, The Nature Conservancy has supported the planting of 1,100 acres of cocoa agroforestry systems in the Amazon, benefiting hundreds of families in south-eastern Pará. Through the Cocoa Forest Project, these families have diversified their plantations and seen cocoa yields rise, improving their food security and incomes.
To benefit an even larger number of families, The Nature Conservancy is now bringing together stakeholders across the cocoa supply chain support the restoration of a further 500 hectares of degraded land as well as to provide technical assistance, training centres, access to rural credit and tree seedlings to help farmers to cultivate multiple native fruits on their cocoa farms.
Along with Mondelêz International and Partnership for Forests, Olam Cocoa is a key partner to this initiative and is supporting a Technical Assistance Hub in Pará. Farmers can attend field and training days, find out about the agroforestry support available to them, learn more about their obligation to restoration under the Forest Code and receive support to implement it. We are also employing an innovative way of recovering degraded land called ‘muvuca’. In Portuguese, this means a lot of people in a very small place. The technique uses seeds instead of seedlings which is most cost effective for farmers.
The hub also works with banks to simplify credit application procedures for farmers and provides them with credit application and financial management training. Over and above this, farmers can receive a price premium for their cocoa in exchange for zero deforestation and restoration commitments.
The project is restoring deforested areas, reducing carbon emissions, and improving livelihoods. Today, there are over 250 families receiving technical assistance and training in best practice for agroforestry systems, cocoa production and the restoration of degraded areas. These families have diversified their farms and been able to increase their cocoa productivity two or three times over.
Over the last months, the families assisted by the project have started selling cocoa to Olam Cocoa, boosting both the local economy and the quality of life of the cocoa farmers. And the first farmer premiums to reward zero deforestation and restoration commitments are now being distributed under the project.
Together we want to create a network of cocoa-based agroforestry in Pará that will allow us to expand the Cocoa Forest Project to 1,250 hectares under restoration. That is the equivalent of 1,250 football fields and a 150% increase over the areas already established in previous years.