Graham Sustainability Institute

Cut or Keep: Farmer Perceptions and Tree Management in Forested Cocoa and Coffee Agriculture

Project Photo

Project Team

Ivan Eastin - School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS)
Adam Simon - Literature, Arts & Science
Arun Agrawal - SEAS
Rebecca Hardin - SEAS 
Patrick Brandful Cobbinah - Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana
Demis Mengist Wudeneh - University of Gondar, Ethiopia

Project Summary

Agroforestry within cocoa and coffee farms: complex decisions

Coffee and cocoa cultivation are essential in Ghana and Ethiopia, generating primary forms of income for a significant percentage of small-scale farmers. 

As these individuals maintain or build new farms, they make complex decisions on whether to keep or remove forest trees. Increasingly, farmers remove forest trees to plant sun-tolerant varieties that produce revenue quickly. Such decisions result in significant environmental degradation and may be counterproductive to farmers' yields since forest trees can help mitigate crop risks due to weather and pests.

This team set out to better understand the decisions that farmers make within their landscapes and improve extension agent outreach. Partnering with the Cocoa Board of Ghana and Ethiopia's Jimma Agricultural Research Institute to conduct semi-structured interviews with farmers, researchers were able to identify ways to improve forest trees' retention within cocoa and coffee plantations. 

Overall, farmers support the retention of forest trees 

One of the team's primary findings was that while farmers, in general, are knowledgeable about the roles that forest trees fulfill, this knowledge is mostly concentrated in ecological rather than potential income-generating benefits. What's more, some farmers held negative perceptions of certain species of forest trees, or even forest trees overall. Since farmers were likely to remove forest trees that they perceived harmful to cocoa production, Dr. Eastin and his team came up with three definitive recommendations: 

1) Extension agents should continue to highlight the environmental and ecological benefits that forest trees present within the cocoa farm. Still, future training should emphasize the potential economic benefits of planting or retaining forest trees as well.

2) Forest trees should be classified so as to distinguish between those that are acceptable to be removed and those that farmers are encouraged to retain or plant. 

3) Government institutions like the agricultural agencies could stand to gain from learning from farmers and cultivating indigenous knowledge. For example, locals may be able to educate the agencies on the utility that fallen forest tree leaves provide in fertilizing soil. 

The findings and recommendations from this study will inform future training programs and may also provide the foundation for a larger study across more countries in Africa. Hopefully, by employing these recommendations, future studies will find increased conservation of forest trees within these landscapes. 

For more details, read the final project report (PDF) 

This project received a $10,000 Catalyst Grant in 2019.