Côte d’Ivoire used to be known for its biodiversity and large forest cover. The ‘ivory’ in its name refers to what was once an abundant population of elephants, now on the verge of extinction. In 1960, the year of independence from France, Côte d’Ivoire had 16 million hectares of forest covering 50 percent of its land surface. Today, according to FAO, forest cover is only at 8 percent. This dramatic landscape change is causing major alterations in local climatic conditions, with rainfall dropping by 14 percent in the last 50 years.


If this trend continues, climatic conditions will threaten the culture of cocoa – Côte d’Ivoire’s main agricultural commodity. Cocoa has brought prosperity to the country, however, decades of cocoa production have exhausted the soil. The decreasing fertility of unsustainably-operated plantations has led local farmers to encroach on forests in search of more productive land. Therefore, the cocoa sector – a potential casualty of climate change – is also the main driver of deforestation in Côte d’Ivoire.

While Côte d’Ivoire has the fastest rate of deforestation in Africa, it is also one of the fastest in the world. It is vital now, more than ever, for Côte d’Ivoire to protect its remaining forests. The issue is so serious that President Alassane Ouattara signed the UN New York Declaration on Forests in 2014 and committed to restoring the national forest to 20 percent of the territory by 2030.




Within this context, the most promising solutions to decoupling agriculture from deforestation would be:


●    To increase agricultural productivity with improved plant material while making use of good practices (intensification).


●    To plant associated trees in cocoa plantations (agroforestry).


Agroforestry, though not the only solution to deforestation, is potentially one the most effective. It would mean the diversification of revenue streams and reducing monoculture risks for smallholder farmers.


In 2016, the Permanent REDD+ Executive Secretariat at the Ministry of Environment mandated a study on economic and financing models, including private investment opportunities, in Côte d’Ivoire. Agroforestry was found to have the best potential. In 2017, UN Environment analyzed existing agroforestry pilots in order to scale them up with sustainable financing schemes. And this year, UN Environment is organizing a discussion platform to advance agroforestry in a way that would help tackle deforestation. Current initiatives include the Cocoa and Forests Initiative, the working group Environment and Climate Change from the cocoa sector Private-Public Partnership Platform and the Green Climate Fund.


In cooperation with the Ivorian State and its partners, UN Environment is partnering with the European Forest Institute to design tangible financing models for deforestation-free cocoa agriculture for the private sector. The successful uptake of agroforestry in the cocoa production chain is a major component of the analysis.


In the first phase, several field missions were carried out to collect data and assess the profitability of three pilot projects initiated by large chocolate manufacturers. The study found a potential shortfall in revenue for farmers in the short-to-medium term that needs to be offset. For agroforestry to be implemented in Côte d’Ivoire, smallholder farmers are pivotal. While addressing land security issues, it is crucial to improve the access of smallholder farmers to finance, which would break the vicious circle of poverty and promote financial inclusion and sustainable development.



Now in its second phase, the study is aiming is to identify the financial conditions for scaling-up agroforestry pilot projects at the national level. As local banks perceive lending to smallholder farmers with no collateral as too risky, action is being taken to formulate innovative financing solutions. This would involve using public funds to bring the financial sector on board and promote smallholder access to finance. The current focus is to initiate constructive dialogue by creating a platform for all stakeholders (chocolate manufacturers, logging companies, government ministries, the Coffee-Cocoa Council, NGOs, insurers and investors) to discuss financing schemes for zero-deforestation cocoa.


This platform is expected to establish a national definition of agroforestry inside cocoa plantations, while building consensus on new financial schemes that could work in the Ivorian context. Hopefully, these initiatives will generate innovative financial solutions and new public-private partnership models to produce forest-friendly cocoa in the future.


By: Thomas Yapo, Economics and Finance Consultant for Africa, working on sustainable land use finance at the United Nations Environment Programme – Finance Initiative (UNEP FI).