© African Parks

The lives of four communities are being transformed by the planting of 40,000 cocoa saplings outside Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Congo. The programme, involving the rehabilitation of old cocoa fields, is expected to improve harvest yields, the quality of beans and generate income for local villages.

It is being funded by Rapac (Réseau des Aires Protégees d’Afrique Centrale) and is designed to improve the potential of cocoa as an alternative income to bush meat poaching, a major conservation challenge that threatens the forests of the Congo basin.

Four nurseries have been set up north of the park in the villages of Goa, Biessie, Boutazab and Batekok, the sites of old cocoa plantations, almost all dating back to colonial times. The saplings are being nurtured and tended to by community members until they are five to 10 months old and ready for planting. Once planted, the trees will begin bearing fruit in two to three years. 

All villagers involved in the initiative have received formal and in-field instruction in growing and harvesting cocoa from agricultural experts who were trained in Brazil. Topics covered have included the rehabilitation and maintenance of plantations and treatments to improve their yields. 

The programme is also exploring options for the cocoa growers to collaborate with Cameroonian cocoa farmers in order to secure higher prices for their crops.