The training materials are part of the Rainforest Alliance’s “climate-smart strategies,” which the sustainability organization believes are especially urgent in Ghana because around 800,000 farming families depend on cocoa production to live in the country.
“Climate-smart agriculture is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Martin Noponen, the Rainforest Alliance climate director.
“A farmer dealing with increasing floods, for example, will employ different practices from one facing water shortages,” he said. “These new materials help farmers better prioritize and tailor various practices for their particular locations.”
Noponen noted the World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) also contributed to the training manuals, and has been sharing them with its member companies.
Sander Muilerman, program manager of climate smart cocoa for WCF, said, “the training materials finally allow cocoa sector actors, trainers and farmers to make informed decisions on how to concretely engage in building resilience at the farm level… At the same time, they are not prescriptive and take individual choice and investment capacity into consideration.”
Three climate change impact zones
The Rainforest Alliance categorizes Ghana into three “climate change impact zones” in its cocoa-growing suitability map: coping and opportunity zone, which is colored in light and dark green; adjustment zone, colored in yellow and orange; and transformation zone in red.
“Transformation zone, which is exposed to higher temperatures, reduced rainfall and prolonged dry season, is unsuitable for cocoa production,” Noponen explained. “We will likely transition cocoa out of this area, using alternative crops [such as cashew] to diversify famers’ income.”
Adjustment zone refers to regions where farmers may need to adapt their farming practices to cope with potential climate hazards, according to Noponen. These areas usually have higher annual average temperatures and a weaker dry season.
He added coping and opportunity zone’s climatic conditions are predicted to stay or become “relatively favorable with low changes to the actual suitability.” In these areas, “protecting remaining forests is an important component,” said Noponen.
Five management segments
Based on these three impact zones, Rainforest Alliance gives away management guidance covering pest and disease control, crop, shade tree, soil and water.
Take shade tree management for example, Rainforest Alliance recommends a minimum of 15 shade trees per hectare in the coping and opportunity zone that will provide 30% to 40% shade cover, while it suggests a minimum of 20 and 25 shade trees for adjustment and transformation zones respectively, according to the training materials.
Noponen previously told ConfectioneryNews the climate change effects would be felt hardest in Ghana because the country has limited shade, and much of its tree stock is over 30 years old – far beyond the ages when trees are most productive (four to 12 years old).
However, the manual also noted, “excessive shade can create more favorable conditions for fungal diseases…. [and] will deprive cocoa trees of sunlight, which can lead to a reduction in cocoa productivity.”
That is why appropriate number and species of shade trees are needed for different zones, added Rainforest Alliance.
Noponen said Rainforest Alliance will work with science organization CIAT to study the climate change impacts on other cocoa-farming communities, including those in Côte d’Ivoire, Peru and Honduras, and provide similar training guidance.