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Front. Sustain. Food Syst. | doi: 10.3389/fsufs.2019.00057

The Ecological Limits Acting on Cocoa Smallholders and the Implications for Poverty Alleviation in an African Forest-Agriculture Landscape

 Alexandra C. Morel1, 2*,  Mark Hirons1, Michael Adu Sasu3, Marvin Quaye3, Rebecca Ashley Asare3, John Mason3,  Stephen Adu-Bredu4,  Emily Boyd5,  Constance L. McDermott1,  Elizabeth J. Robinson6,  Robert Straser7,  Yadvinder S. Malhi1 and Ken Norris2
  • 1Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  • 2Zoological Society of London, United Kingdom
  • 3Nature Conservation Research Centre, Ghana
  • 4Forest Research Institute of Ghana, Ghana
  • 5Centre for Sustainability Studies, Lund University, Sweden
  • 6School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading, United Kingdom
  • 7University of California, Riverside, United States

Cocoa yields in Ghana remain low. This has variously been attributed to low rates of fertiliser application, pollinator limitation and particularly dry growing conditions. In this paper we use an African forest-agriculture landscape dominated by cocoa (Theobroma cacao) to develop an ecological production function, allowing us to identify key ecological and management limits acting on cocoa yields simultaneously. These included more consistent application of fertilisers inter-annually, distributing rotting biomass throughout the farm and reducing the incidence of capsid attacks. By relaxing these limits, we estimate plausible increases in yields and, by extension, farm incomes. Our analysis reveals that resulting increases in cocoa yields requiring both ecological and intensive management interventions could be significant (113 ± 60%); however, benefits are disproportionately realised by the wealthiest households. We found that wealthier households benefited proportionally more from ecological intensification methods (e.g. leaving more rotting biomass in their farms) and the poorest households benefited proportionally more from capital-intensive intensification methods (e.g. pesticide and fertiliser applications). We treated poverty as multi-dimensional, and show that only certain dimensions of poverty (school attendance, assets and food security) are significantly related to cocoa incomes, while several other dimensions (access to clean water, sanitation and electricity and infant mortality) are not. We explore how increased household cocoa incomes could impact different dimensions of poverty. Our findings suggest, that if all households adopted the optimal level of each of these management options, and in so doing had similar poverty profiles to those households already managing optimally, we would see the community-averaged probability: a child of a household misses school decrease from 47% to 31%, a household would be able to acquire assets increase from 40% to 59% and a household would have access to an adequate amount of food increase from 62% to 79%.

Keywords: Cocoa (Theobroma cacao L.), Ecosystem services (ES), Poverty alleviation, Smallholder agroecosystems, Ecological production function

Received: 09 Aug 2018; Accepted: 03 Jul 2019.

Edited by:

Ademola Braimoh, World Bank, United States

Reviewed by:

Wil De Jong, Kyoto University, Japan
Gabriel D. Medina, University of Brasilia, Brazil  

Copyright: © 2019 Morel, Hirons, Adu Sasu, Quaye, Ashley Asare, Mason, Adu-Bredu, Boyd, McDermott, Robinson, Straser, Malhi and Norris. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Alexandra C. Morel, University of Oxford, Environmental Change Institute, Oxford, United Kingdom, alexandra.morel@gmail.com