Increasing sustainability in the cocoa value chain through locally adapted climate-smart practices




Why is this topic important to the audience?

Because cocoa farmers should know:

  • That Côte d’Ivoire is the world’s leading producer of cocoa beans. In 2020, cocoa farming was practiced by one million small farmers and provided an income for five million people, or 20% of the population.
  • How to organize their farming activities, taking into account the seasons, weather, and atmospheric conditions.
  • How to reduce the negative effects of climate change on their cocoa production.
  • Climate-smart cocoa practices.
  • Where to find accurate local weather forecasts.
  • Agricultural practices adapted to their local areas.
  • How to adapt to the different impacts of of climate change.
  • That the rural population is poor (the rural poverty rate was 60% in 2015). This poverty hinders adoption of practices such as agroforestry that can help farmers cope with the effects of climate change, but whose benefits are apparent only after a certain period of time.

Key facts about climate-smart cocoa practices

  • Climate-smart cocoa farming is an approach to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change on cocoa production by applying appropriate agricultural practices.
  • Climate-smart cocoa practice is not an action, but an approach that involves a set of interventions adapted to the production context and environment. This means that the approach should not be the same for all cocoa farmers. It depends on the environment, the production, and the type of climate threat identified in the area where the farmer is located and his or her ability to cope with this threat.
  • Forested areas have the greatest need for protection from the adverse effects of climate change.
  • Most climate adaptation strategies are most effective when farmers come together and adopt community-based approaches, rather than isolated efforts from one plantation to another.

Impact of climate change on cocoa production in Africa

  • As adult cocoa plants are more prone to attack by insects such as mirids, stem borers and many others, there is a high risk of mortality when rainfall is low.
  • Climate change results in high numbers of plants being uprooted and, because of wind, a massive fall of cocoa flowers, leading to plant mortality.
  • A high number of small cocoa beans and decreased yields.
  • Erosion and destruction of soil harbouring cocoa trees, as well as flooding.

Major challenges in adopting climate-smart cocoa practices

  • Farmers do not have sufficient knowledge of the effects of climate change, and thus have difficulties coping.
  • Adapting to climate change can be complicated because it may involves making basic changes to cocoa farming practices.
  • Climate change makes mature plants more vulnerable to insect attacks, increases the rotting in unripe pods, and increases the risk of mould contamination of beans.

Gender aspects of climate-smart cocoa practices

  • Women represent at least 50% of the labor force in West African cocoa farming, and are involved in all stages of the cocoa value chain. In Côte d’Ivoire, women account for 68% of the cocoa workforce (as owners or workers). According to some cocoa production and industry experts, in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, men are the predominant players in transporting cocoa beans to marketing centres and negotiating prices.
  • Women are paid less than men both for their work and in the distribution of cocoa revenues.
  • Access to land is a major barrier for many women cocoa farmers. Women farmers do not always own the land they cultivate, even if they work on the same plot all their lives.
  • Côte d’Ivoire is a patriarchal society: women cannot inherit land from their parents, either on farms or in homes. Even if a woman owns land, her descendants cannot inherit it. Her property is inherited by her brother, and transferred to his descendants when he dies.


Key information on climate-smart cocoa practices


Choosing a plot

When starting a new plantation, the plot of land must be chosen carefully.

  • Avoid choosing land in a forest; opt for fallow areas.
  • Avoid felling all the trees in the area to be farmed.
  • Choose a plot where water is readily available.

Preparing land

Plots must be properly prepared to avoid cocoa diseases and obtain good yields.

  • Allow a one-year fallow period before (re)planting cocoa trees. During this period, cocoa farmers can plant cover crops and other short-lived crops as well as barrier plants to create a protective barrier*.
  • Practice selective cutting: deforestation enhances global warming. Selective felling of trees can provide shade for cocoa trees, protecting them from direct sunlight and strong winds.
  • Consider the climate in all decision-making.
  • Ensure proper plant spacing and preparation of compost or manure.
  • Clear land manually and avoid burning vegetation before, during, and after clearing.
  • Develop a weeding schedule for the plot, taking into account the climatic variables of the region.
  • Create nurseries near water sources to avoid having to transport water.
  • Choose the type of pots for the nurseries according to the area. Pots should be between 15 and 20 cm wide.
  • Shake pots regularly to avoid empty spaces.
  • Arrange the pots next to each other in the nursery.


Choose seeds/plants that are resistant to disease and drought and obtain certified seeds from a specialized seed centre.

In order to have quality seedlings, cocoa producers must prepare the soil. The soil must :

  • Farmers should plant shade trees before planting cocoa seedlings/seed.
  • Maintain adequate soil moisture. To do this, young cocoa plants must be close to the temporary shade of tree species such as plantain, rubber, and oil palm.

Other necessary actions include:

  • Mulching* young cocoa trees to prevent evaporation of soil moisture and protect them from heavy rains.
  • Building basins around cocoa plants during (or just after) planting. Basins enable water to penetrate the soil under both young cocoa trees and mature trees during the rainy season. When combined with mulching, basins help to conserve moisture at the base of cocoa trees for a longer period of time.
  • In areas with high temperatures and heavy rains that wash away nutrients, grow leguminous cover crops such as groundnuts, beans, and cowpeas. Plant woody legumes such as Tephrosia candida, Flemingia macrophylla,
  • Muscat pea, Mucunas, and pigeon pea as cover crops in improved fallows systems* or on uncultivated land before introducing the crop, to increase growth and survival of newly-planted cocoa trees.
  • Water young cocoa plants during long, dry periods.

Disease and pest control

  • Develop an integrated pest management * (IPM) plan for new plots.
  • Losses caused by cocoa diseases and pests are estimated at 20% to 40% globally. It’s important to ensure that plants are healthy so they can resist diseases. And although diseases such as moniliasis and witches’ broom can be controlled by intensive biocontrol*, many pest control measures, including organic pesticides, are financially inaccessible to small-scale farmers.

Cocoa trees can be threatened by a variety of pests and diseases, the most common and widely known of which are the following:

  • Cocoa mirids are the most dangerous pests of cocoa cultivation in Africa. Attacks cause important production losses and premature aging of cocoa orchards. Management involves treating contaminated parts with a low toxicity insecticide.
  • Brown pod rot of cocoa trees affects cocoa plantations in all regions. It is caused by several species of pseudo-fungi including Phytophthora megakarya, and results in yield losses that can exceed 50%, and destroys about 10% of cocoa trees. Symptoms include spots that increase in size and turn from brown to black on the pods, leading to defoliation, tissue death, and cankers * on the trunk, branches, and roots.


Curative measures:

  • When the number of pods infected with brown pod rot is less than five per tree, these pods should be harvested and buried in the ground outside the plantation. If there are more than five affected pods per tree, surround the diseased area with barriers and treat it with a fungicide, a treatment that destroys the parasitic fungi. Three to four days later, evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment.

Swollen Shoot Virus is a viral disease that affects cocoa trees and is transmitted mainly by mealy bugs. Its symptoms are swelling on the twigs, suckers, and roots. An infected plant may also have a light green, yellowish, or reddish discolouration along leaf veins, deformation of leaves, rounded pods of reduced size, and in the advanced stage, complete exfoliation. Symptoms vary according to the viral strains that infect an orchard, but infection always leads to the death of the tree after three to four years. The disease also causes a significant decrease in the quality of the beans and the yield of the tree (25% the first year, 50% the second year).

Treatment of Swollen Shoot Virus:

  • Cut and destem all trees and shrubs in the plot.
  • Treat the stumps with an arboricide.*
  • Leave the plot fallow for at least one year.
  • Install a protective barrier or living fence* all around the plot, planting species such as Calliandra, Leucaena, Thitonia, Gliricida, and pigeon pea.

Preventive measures against Swollen Shoot Virus:

  • Do not replant immediately in infected plots. Leave them fallow for at least one year before replanting cocoa trees.
  • Do not site nurseries in or near infected areas.

Note that insecticides and fungicides should not be applied as a preventive measure, but as a last resort, only when necessary. Before applying pesticides or fungicides, take the following actions:

  • Thoroughly search the orchard to infected trees.
  • Decide whether control actions are needed.
  • Decide what control action, if any, is needed.

Weed control:

  • Remove weeds (for example, Imperata cylindriqua and Chromolaena odorata) through selective herbicides. *
  • Plant shade trees.
  • Build hedges around your plot.
  • Remove weeds that may inhibit the growth and development of young cocoa plants.
  • Weed the plot four times a year.

What can be done beyond cocoa farming to increase resilience (more sustainable resistance)?

Cocoa farmers are confronted with several factors that they cannot control, for example, the price of inputs or pest and disease control products, government regulations, the availability of planting materials, agricultural equipment, training, and the availability of new production technologies. This situation is exacerbated by climate change, which generates additional challenges.

To cope, farmers need to increase their resilience, i.e., their ability to bounce back from difficult times, such as a climate shock or other negative events.

To achieve this, farmers should take the following activities into consideration:

1. Income diversification

  • Consider other sources of income to reduce dependence on cocoa. Fruit trees such as orange, mandarin, lemon, and grapefruit can be grown alongside cocoa trees.

2. Natural resource management

  • Help maintain biodiversity. The farmer must be in good health to participate in farming activities and to benefit from the income derived from them.
  • Advocate against deforestation and the destruction of watersheds.
  • Fight against soil erosion.
  • Campaign against bushfires, while preparing a bushfire management plan.
  • Invest in the preservation of the area’s wildlife habitats and gain knowledge of the endangered species in the area where you live.
  • Restore windbreaks, rows of trees or shrubs that protect crops or other areas of the farm from high winds and heavy rains.
  • Restore forest cover.
  • Discuss within your community how to protect your area from illegal mining and how to preserve forests and forest reserves that protect water sources.

3. Agricultural planning

Regardless of the impact of climate change on his or her cocoa farm, farmers will be better prepared when they know their fields well. Here are some steps to take in this direction:

  • Apply for a certificate of ownership from the organization in charge of issuing this document in your area.
  • Document the trees on your plot. Some trees are worth maintaining as part of climate change adaptation strategies; it is beneficial to be able to identify them when practising selective felling.
  • Familiarize yourself with the agricultural calendar, which represents the different periods of the year during which certain agricultural activities can be carried out. The agricultural calendar helps farmers to schedule the purchase of inputs and equipment.
  • Map your plantation with GPS references. This will give you an accurate idea of the size of your plantation and allow you to better estimate yields, plant crops, and purchase and apply fertilizers and other inputs.

4. Quality control

With unpredictable rains due to climate change, drying cocoa properly is another challenge. However, there are alternative methods to sun-drying your cocoa beans, including solar dryers.

5. Purchasing insurance

Another possibility for increasing resilience outside cocoa farming is to purchase insurance, which compensates farmers if they suffer a loss. Depending on the type of insurance, they will be reimbursed for the loss of crop production in case of bad weather, disease in the cocoa orchard, pest attack, or bush fire.

A 2018 study found that, in Côte d’Ivoire, four crops (cocoa, cotton, rice, and maize) are suitable for index insurance*. This type of insurance stabilizes the incomes of small farmers facing climate disruptions, especially in the event of weather-related yield losses.

To learn more about the different insurance mechanisms related to agricultural activities and cocoa farming in particular, farmers can contact insurance companies, banks, or agricultural advisors in their regions. In rural areas, they can obtain information from the chiefdom, the sub-prefecture, or the town hall in their areas.

Other strategies for increasing resilience include:

  • Building capacity by upgrading knowledge, including about climate change.
  • Working in groups to make climate adaptation strategies more effective, as opposed to an individual approach where each person works on their own plantation.
  • Developing a culture of savings through farmers’ groups in order to secure financing, since most climate-smart technologies require financing.


Biocontrol: Biocontrol is a set of plant protection methods based on the actions of predatory or parasitic species on plant pests.

Improved fallows: A period during which land is allowed to rest without cultivation, but the farmer plants leguminous trees, shrubs, or herbaceous cover crops on the resting land, or allows existing trees to stand. Improved fallows help farmers restore soil fertility to their land much more quickly.

Index insurance: A new type of insurance that pays out benefits on the basis of a pre-determined index (e.g., rainfall level) for loss of assets and investments, primarily working capital, resulting from weather and catastrophic events.

Mulching: Covering the soil with a protective layer or straw, crop residues, plastic sheeting or other materials to suppress weeds and retain soil moisture.

Resilience: The ability to withstand hardships and difficulties and regain one’s health and well-being, or the health and well-being of the farm. In this case, it refers to the ability to resist and bounce back from the negative effects of climate change.

Selective herbicide: A type of herbicide that kills only some types of vegetation, for example, only broadleaf plants. Non-selective herbicides kill typically kill all plants they contact.

Where can I find more resources on this topic?



  1. Babin R., Dibog L., and Bisseleua, D. B. H. 2006. Description et evaluation d’une nouvelle methode e’elevage, et elements de biologie de Sahlbergella singularis Hagl (Hemiptera : Miridae), principal ravageur du cacaoyer au Cameroun.
  2. Cilas, C. and Bastide, P., 2020. Challenges to Cocoa Production in the Face of Climate Change and the Spread of Pests and Diseases. Agronomy, Vol 10, No. 9, p. 1232. (598 KB)
  3. Codjoe, F. N. W., et al, 2013. Climate Change Awareness and Coping Strategies of Cocoa Farmers in Rural Ghana. Journal of Biology, Agriculture and Healthcare, Vol. 3, No. 11. (820 KB)
  4. Conseil Café-Cacao, 2015. Production durable de Cacao en Côte d’Ivoire : Besoins et solutions de financement pour les petits producteurs. (1,502 KB)
  5. Dohmen, M. M., 2020. Manuel de vulgarisation pour une Cacaoculture climato-intelligente. World Cocoa Foundation (WCF) et Rainforest Alliance (RA).
  6. FAO – The World Bank, 2017. How to integrate gender issues in climate-smart agriculture projects. (1,299 KB)
  7. Groupe de la Banque Africaine de Développement, 2016. Nourrir l’Afrique : Stratégie pour la transformation de l’agriculture africaine 2016–2025.
  8. Hutchins, A., et al, 2015. Assessment of Climate Change Impacts on Cocoa Production and Approaches to Adaptation and Mitigation: A Contextual View of Ghana and Costa Rica. (657 KB)
  9. Juniper, T., 2020. How climate change has altered cocoa farming in Ivory Coast. Excerpt from Juniper, T., 2019. Rainforest / Dispatches from Earth’s Most Vital Frontlines.
  10. Koffié, K., 2014. Diversite moleculaire du CSSV (Cocoa swollen shoot virus) et epidemiologie de la maladie du swollen shoot du cacaoyer (Theobroma cacao L.) en Cote d’Ivoire (Thèse de Doctorat en Phytovirologie). (3.76 MB)
  11. Lescornec, G., and Joras, D, 2018. Cocoa and the Global Goals: Accelerating Women’s Empowerment (SDG5).
  12. Millard, E., Oduro, M., and Fadika, S., 2019. Strategies for integrating gender equity in cocoa smallholder support programs. (1,692 KB)
  13. Oyekale, A.S., 2021. Climate change adaptation and cocoa farm rehabilitation behaviour in Ahafo Ano North District of Ashanti region, Ghana. Open Agriculture, Vol 6, No. 1. (1,985 KB),
  14. Page, L, and Grume, M., 2015. La maladie du swollen shoot du cacaoyer.
  15. Plas, B., 2020. Les cacaoyères agroforestières de la region de Man : un système de culture à l’agonie ou l’émergence d’une stratégie post-forestière ? (6.30 MB)
  16. Rainforest Alliance, 2020. Integrated Pest Management and Natural Farming Solutions: Increasing Agriculture’s Productivity and Resilience. (5.1 MB)
  17. Rainforest Alliance, 2021. What Is Climate-Smart Agriculture?
  18. Wikipedia. Pourriture brune des cabosses du cacaoyer.
  19. World Cocoa Foundation, 2019. Gender Integration Guidance Note. (2,319 KB)



Contributed by: Serge Adam’s Diakite, freelance journalist in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire

Revised by: Issiaka Karamoko, Cocoa Certification and Sustainability Specialist, ETG-Beyond Beans, Côte d’Ivoire

This story was produced with a grant from Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ), which implements the Green Innovation Centers program.