Cocoa feels the bite of climate change

Cocoa farming is a delicate process, which needs very specific weather conditions to succeed. Climate change, by creating uncertainty in weather patterns, can disrupt this process in multiple ways.

“For every step you need a specific climate. You need rain at some point in time, you need the sun to dry, you need humidity in the air for the beans to be okay,” said Flora Coffi Sika, head of sustainability in Africa for ingredients company OFI.

“When you don’t need humidity, you’ll see humidity; and the time when you need humidity you’ll see drought. At that time, you’ll see phenomenon you’ve not seen before.”

How climate affects farmers on the ground

There are multiple reasons why cocoa prices have risen so much in recent times, for example by 400%​ in the last year. The simplest is the weather.

Commodities affected by climate change

It isn’t just cocoa that is endangered by changing climatic conditions. Potatoes​, maize, wheat, rice, soy, coffee, bananas and plantains are also affected​.

OFI aims to combat this, according to Sika, by helping to train farmers in techniques that can increase yield. One of these techniques is pruning.

“We remove all the branches that could be an obstacle like to the growth of the different plants,” a cocoa farmer in Gagny, Côte d’Ivoire told FoodNavigator. “The main benefit of the pruning is to let the plant breathe. It lets the sun come down into the whole plant, and the air come, and the plant breathe better.”

Cocoa beans.

Dead branches and offshoots, that can’t produce any cocoa pods, nevertheless take nutrients from the cocoa plant. By removing them, more nutrients go to the branches that can produce yields, thus increasing the yields that farmers can get from the plant. At first, many of the farmers were sceptical about the method, as it seemed counter-intuitive to cut down branches, but after realising the benefits, many adopted it.