Cameroon is one of the world’s largest producers of cocoa; 209,905 tons of cocoa beans were produced in 2014. Cocoa is the main cash crop of the Centre region of Cameroon and one of the main export commodities of the country. However, unstable international cocoa prices coupled with weather variability have increased food insecurity and malnourishment among cocoa farmers.
Furthermore, even when cocoa prices reached high peaks in international markets, smallholder farmers received only 3.5 to 6.4 % of the final value of the chocolate bar. With highly volatile cocoa prices and small returns to cocoa producers, smallholder farmers need to embrace crop diversification of the cocoa farms to mitigate the uncertainty from cocoa prices.
Cocoa farmers in the Centre region of Cameroon did not intercrop cocoa with vegetables in the past despite the large spacing between cocoa trees (3 m x 3 m). Vegetables, especially leafy vegetables, could diversify the revenues and nutritional diet of small-scale cocoa farmers. Intercropping vegetables with cocoa trees is a relatively less-known and documented practice. Growing leafy vegetables is a good way to build food security because these vegetables provide high levels of micronutrients as well as an additional source of income that could complement the traditional income source, which is mainly from the cocoa cash crop.
Humidtropics researchers from AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center have initiated activities that intend to diversify cocoa farms with improved leafy vegetables. In April 2015, the Nkolguet farmers’ community under Nyong-et-So’o district of the Centre region selected a number of cocoa producers to host farm demonstrations of intercropping leafy vegetables in cocoa farms. Three different ages (1, 3 & 5 years old) of cocoa plantations were selected. The older cocoa trees created more shade.
AVRDC provided seeds of two amaranth and four nightshade varieties, and trained selected cocoa farmers on nursery techniques and on-farm vegetable management. Poultry manure and urea were used to fertilize the leafy vegetables. Farmers also set up leafy vegetable nurseries and transplanted the vegetable seedlings to cocoa farms.
One month later, farmers started to harvest the first round of the amaranth and nightshade, and have harvested three times in three months. “It was our first time to intercrop something in the cocoa farms,” said Mrs. Sabine Ondoua, who was one of the farmers hosting the on-farm leafy vegetables demonstration. “Planting leafy vegetables in the space between cocoa trees could help us feed children during the hunger gap that is the period before harvesting… or when cocoa prices are low,” added Mr. Elouma Atangana Bernard, another cocoa farmer who hosted on-farm vegetable demonstration trials in his cocoa farms.
Blog and photos by Jean-Claude Bidogeza, Agricultural Economist and Country Liaison Officer for Cameroon, AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center. Blog edited by Valérie Poiré, Communication Officer, Humidtropics.