Cameroon is one of the worldâ€™s largest producers of cocoa;Â 209,905 tons of cocoa beans were produced in 2014. CocoaÂ is the main cash crop of the Centre region of CameroonÂ and one of the main export commodities of the country.Â However, unstable international cocoa prices coupled withÂ weather variability have increased food insecurity andÂ malnourishment among cocoa farmers.
Furthermore, even when cocoa prices reached high peaks inÂ international markets, smallholder farmers received only 3.5Â to 6.4 % of the final value of the chocolate bar. With highlyÂ volatile cocoa prices and small returns to cocoa producers,Â smallholder farmers need to embrace crop diversificationÂ of the cocoa farms to mitigate the uncertainty from cocoaÂ prices.
Cocoa farmers in the Centre region of Cameroon did notÂ intercrop cocoa with vegetables in the past despite theÂ large spacing between cocoa trees (3 m xÂ 3 m). Vegetables,Â especially leafy vegetables, could diversify the revenues andÂ nutritional diet of small-scale cocoa farmers. IntercroppingÂ vegetables with cocoa trees is a relatively less-known andÂ documented practice. Growing leafy vegetables is a goodÂ way to build food security because these vegetables provideÂ high levels of micronutrients as well as an additional sourceÂ of income that could complement the traditional incomeÂ source, which is mainly from the cocoa cash crop.
Humidtropics researchers from AVRDC â€“ The World Vegetable Center have initiated activitiesÂ that intend to diversify cocoa farms with improved leafyÂ vegetables.Â In April 2015, the Nkolguet farmersâ€™ community underÂ Nyong-et-Soâ€™o district of the Centre region selected aÂ number of cocoa producers to host farm demonstrations ofÂ intercropping leafy vegetables in cocoa farms. Three differentÂ ages (1, 3 & 5 years old) of cocoa plantations were selected.Â The older cocoa trees created more shade.
AVRDC provided seeds of two amaranth and fourÂ nightshade varieties, and trained selected cocoa farmers onÂ nursery techniques and on-farm vegetable management.Â Poultry manure and urea were used to fertilize the leafyÂ vegetables. Farmers also set up leafy vegetable nurseriesÂ and transplanted the vegetable seedlings to cocoa farms.
One month later, farmers started to harvest the first roundÂ of the amaranth and nightshade, and have harvested threeÂ times in three months. â€œIt was our first time to intercropÂ something in the cocoa farms,â€ said Mrs. Sabine Ondoua, whoÂ was one of the farmers hosting the on-farm leafy vegetablesÂ demonstration. â€œPlanting leafy vegetables in the spaceÂ between cocoa trees could help us feed children during theÂ hunger gap that is the period before harvestingâ€¦ or whenÂ cocoa prices are low,â€ added Mr. Elouma Atangana Bernard,Â another cocoa farmer who hosted on-farm vegetableÂ demonstration trials in his cocoa farms.
Blog and photos byÂ Jean-Claude Bidogeza, Agricultural Economist and Country Liaison Officer for Cameroon, AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center. Blog edited by ValÃ©rie PoirÃ©, Communication Officer, Humidtropics.