My post for Blog Action Day 2009 focuses the impact of traditional cocoa cultivation in climate change. Let me start with the concept of the forest rent. The term was first coined by French Agronomist François Ruf. Here’s what he found.
Although a shade tree by origin, farmers found that exposing the cocoa tree to light, i.e., cutting down forests, increased yield dramatically. A newly planted cocoa farm thus starts out very productive and has high yields. But exposure to light shortens the trees’ life. As trees age–their life expectancy ranges now down to as little as 20 years–their yield declines. At the same time, they become more vulnerable to pests and diseases. The amount of labor and chemicals required to keep trees producing increases accordingly.
There is therefore an incentive for cocoa farmers to expand into new forest areas and start new farms when the old ones show signs of decline. In other words, claiming and clearing new forest generates higher income per unit of labor than sticking with a declining farm–that’s the forest rent. To quote Ruf: “Forest consumption also helped to make chocolate relatively cheap and affordable for consumers.”
Ruf has shown that the migration of cocoa cultivation both in countries and around the word has been driven by the lure of the forest rent. Cocoa moved from Central America to Latin America, from there to Africa and from there to Indonesia. Each continental jump was driven by the availability of fresh forest land on the new continent and the lack thereof on the existing one.
Clearing forests is one of the factors that has contributed to climate change. It is therefore not far fetched to link chocolate consumption to climate change. But before you all blame me for having spoiled yet another favorite treat, listen to the solutions.
Growing cocoa under a shade canopy it not only smart environmentally, it can also extend the life of the tree. But there has to be an economic incentive. Government policies that focus on forest protection and reimburse farmers for trees not cut and sold are a first step. Proper extension services are another step. Finally, and here I’m on my soapbox again, producer prices have to rise to make it worthwhile for farmers.
So, encourage your chocolate manufacturers to support environmental stewardship and decent producer prices. It’s one step to slow climate change.
Update: for those interested in Ruf’s work, here are some more references:
- François Ruf, Pierre Ehret, and Yoddang, “Smallholder Cocoa in Indonesia: Why a Cocoa Boom in Sulawesi,” in Cocoa Pioneer Fronts since 1800: The Role of Smallholders, Planters, and Merchants, ed. W. G. Clarence-Smith (London ; New York: Macmillan ; St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 212-31.
- François Ruf, “Les crises cacaoyères: Le malédiction des âges d’or,” Cahiers d’Études Africaines 31, no. 1-2 (1991): 83-134.
- François Ruf, “Eléments pour une théorie sur l’agriculture des régions tropicales humides. I – De la forêt rente différentielle, au cacaoyer capital travail,” L’Agronomie Tropicale 42, no. 3 (1987): 218-32.
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