Bitter chocolate: Primates wiped out in many Côte d’Ivoire areas – where illegal cocoa farming is on the rise

By Rachel Arthur contact

- Last updated on GMT

Researchers on an illegal cocoa farm (photo W. Scott McGraw, Ohio State University)
Researchers on an illegal cocoa farm (photo W. Scott McGraw, Ohio State University)
Illegal cocoa farming is an increasing threat on primate populations in Côte d’Ivoire’s protected areas, say researchers in the journal Tropical Conservation Science. 

Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s leading cocoa producer, with sales accounting for around 10% of the country’s GNP. Many plantations are owned by companies or eco-certified cocoa farms, however, some illegal farms are found in protected areas.

Researchers surveyed 23 protected areas in the period 2010-2013. They say they were ‘stunned’ to find that three-quarters of the land in them had been transformed for cocoa production.

Consequently they also found a positive correlation between cocoa farming and the absence of primate species.

A World Biodiversity Hotspot

Côte d’Ivoire comprises part of West Africa’s Guinean Forest Region, an ecosystem of great biological richness, species diversity, and endemism. The region is a World Biodiversity Hotspot, hosting more than 2,250 endemic plant and 270 vertebrate species.

“While much of the expansion of Côte d’Ivoire’s agri-businesses has occurred on plantations owned/leased by companies, or on private land of eco-certified cocoa farmers, a growing number of cocoa farms are found inside national parks and forest reserves, or protected areas (PAs),” ​wrote W. Scott McGraw, one of the authors of the study.

“The scale of this phenomenon became apparent during surveys we carried out in twenty-three protected areas while searching for endangered primates.

“The plantations inside Cote d’Ivoire’s protected areas are - by definition – illegal, and the great majority are associated with full sun cocoa production (This method of cocoa production involves removal of all trees and contrasts with shade agroforestry, in which selected large canopy trees are retained to provide shade to cocoa trees grown beneath them).”

Some areas have lost their entire primate populations

The study looked at 23 protected areas. 16 of these had seen more than 65% of their forests degraded by human disturbance.

Although a variety of agricultural products were grown illegally, cocoa was the major factor with it making up 93% of total crops grown.

Across the 20 areas with illegal cocoa plantations, around 74% of the land had been transformed for cocoa production.

13 of the protected areas had lost their entire primate populations. Another five had lost half of their species.

“Factors responsible for the reduction of Côte d’Ivoire’s primates include rapid human population growth, a large influx of migrants, widespread and uncontrolled hunting, and the conversion of forest into fields supporting oil-palm, rubber, and cocoa agro-industries,” ​said McGraw.

Two critically endangered monkeys – the Roloway monkey and the White-naped mangabey – were seen in just two reserves. McGraw said this was at least partially due to illegal cocoa farms destroying habitat.

Human population pressure

A number of factors are responsible for forest destruction, said McGraw. One is the growing worldwide demand for chocolate. There has also been political turmoil (resulting in less attention on forest reserves) and the arrival of migrants who turn to farming to survive.

“Human population pressure lies at the root of the illegal hunting and farming that occur inside Côte d’Ivoire’s protected areas,” ​he said.

“While the effects of poaching and general habitat loss on Côte d’Ivoire’s primates are well documented, the impact of illegal cocoa production has received considerably less attention. Our surveys demonstrate that illegal cocoa farming is the major cause of deforestation within Côte d’Ivoire’s protected areas.”

McGraw says efforts need to be made to enforce legislation in protected areas. Growers should also move towards shade-cocoa farming (which retains the large existing trees) so that some monkey habitat remains.

“Aggressive conservation action is needed to curb hunting throughout Côte d’Ivoire, but unless illegal cocoa farming is similarly controlled, even effective enforcement of anti-hunting laws will not prevent the loss of additional primate diversity, since habitats capable of supporting primate populations – including those within protected areas - will no longer exist.”

Source: Tropical Conservation Science​, Volume 8 (1): 2015

Title: “Cocoa farming and primate extirpation inside Cote d’Ivoire’s protected areas”

E. Anderson Bitty;  Sery Gonedele Bi ; Jean-Claude Koffi Bene; Philippe K. Kouassi; W. Scott McGraw

Related topics: Commodities

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