Ariculture / Cocoa / Ghana

The Importance of Shade

In this, the third article in our series focusing on our work in Ghana, Rainforest Alliance communications team member, Marcus Schaefer, who recently travelled from his home outside Stockholm to the West African nation, visits the Juabeso/Bia region to report from the Casheikrom community about their work in agroforestry. Rainforest Alliance has been working with 36 communities in the region promoting sustainable land use practises and creating small scale enterprises.

Anyone who has spent time unprotected under the tropical sun appreciates the importance of shade. When, after a hike in the scorching sun, we finally reached the cocoa farm it was a blessing to seek refuge in the dense shadows cast by the cocoa trees.  But it is not only humans that need shade, the cocoa trees need it to.

The cocoa tree is a low-growing tree that in the wild grows under the canopy of taller trees. In large parts of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire cocoa is today grown in monoculture plantations with the trees being planted in dense rows and without any protection of shade trees.

The shade trees protects the smaller cocoa trees from the sun, reduce soil erosion, improve soil quality as well as binding more water, carbon and nitrogen into the soil.

The shade trees protects the smaller cocoa trees from the sun, reduce soil erosion, improve soil quality as well as binding more water, carbon and nitrogen into the soil.

“Cocoa trees grown in direct sunlight without the protection of shade can suffer from heat stress. The high temperature and the intense sun can thereby effect the health of the plant and ultimately decrease yields and the quality of the harvest”, says Dr Martin Noponen Technical Specialist at Rainforest Alliance Climate Program. “Farmers are already experiencing these problems but the situation is likely to get worse. A report for example from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture CIAT predicts that if the business-as-usual of having full-sun cocoa farms is maintained many of the cocoa growing regions in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire will be much less suitable for cocoa growing in 20 years time.”

Implementing agroforestry methods, where taller growing native trees provide shade and decrease the temperature on the farm, is important to help farmers adapt their farms to climate change and it is a key element of the Rainforest Alliance work in cocoa.

“Apart from lowering the temperature and protecting the farms from the sun, the shade trees provide several other services.  They help to reduce soil erosion, improve soil quality as well as binding more water, carbon and nitrogen into the soil. Which in turn can reduce the need for fertilisers and also increase carbon stocks”, says Martin Noponen.

But buying seedlings to cover thousand of hectares is expensive. In Juabeso/Bia the Rainforest Alliance has provided farmers with seedlings and helped to start nurseries so the communities can grow their own seedlings. To date 19,151 shade trees have been planted.

“The farmers plant 18-30 shade trees per hectare”, says Victor Mombu, Environmental Services Specialist at Rainforest Alliance in Ghana. “In order to create a diversity of shade trees the SAN standard states that at least 12 different species are used per hectare.”

But to get anything to grow in the dense shade under the cocoa tree is no easy task. In the farms that we visited you could see newly planted trees at every spot where the sun reached the ground.

Depending on species, shade trees that are given the right condition can grow up to three metres annually. If not, it can take many years for them to reach above the cocoa trees.

“To follow up and train farmers in how to take care of their shade trees is very important. We want the farmers to benefit from the shade as soon as possible”, says Andrew Morrison, Senior Associate at Rainforest Alliance in Ghana. “One example is that we train farmers in pruning the cocoa trees canopy so the shade trees get enough light. For our work to be successful it is important to pay close attention to theses kind of details making sure that the new knowledge and methods are put to use by the farmers.”

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