Climate-resilient cocoa landscapes in Madagascar

Landscape in the Haut Sambirano, Madagascar
Landscape in the Haut Sambirano, Madagascar. Photo: O. Ravaka Andriamihaja

Madagascar produces less than 0.2% of the world’s cocoa, but what it does produce is prized by chocolate marketers and connoisseurs across the globe. Almost all of Madagascar’s cacao crop is grown in the Sambirano watershed, located in country’s northwest. There, about 10,000 households produce cocoa largely by hand on small farms (0.5–1.5 hectares), with very little use of fertilizers or agrochemicals.

The Sambirano valley landscape is bordered by mountain ranges encompassing tropical forests that boast exceptional biodiversity. The local farmers’ reliance on traditional cultivation methods and minimal inputs, along with the highly diverse local ecosystem, helps give the resulting cocoa its unique, highly valued flavour profile.

Increasing challenges

Despite its many assets, the Sambirano cacao-growing region is also beset by challenges. The west coast of Madagascar is prone to devastating cyclones that are worsening due to climate change. Among other damages, these cyclones frequently alter the Sambirano river course and cause flooding – also giving rise to saltwater intrusion into prime cacao-growing areas. Partly as a result, villages must sometimes relocate and struggling farmers resort to different land use changes between forests, agroforestry, rice fields, and other land uses to ensure their livelihoods.

This and population-growth driven charcoal production are fuelling deforestation of precious biodiverse areas, rising greenhouse gas emissions, and other environmental damages (e.g. soil loss) throughout the region.

A landscape approach for sustainability

There is no silver bullet for the difficulties confronting the region. Instead, previous project work in the Sambirano watershed shows that a contextually nuanced response is needed to balance the competing interests and overlapping crises imperilling the environment and people’s livelihoods. Building on the achievements of initial work in the area, the current project aims at collectively engaging local stakeholders in the development of a sustainably managed landscape in the Sambirano Valley. In particular, it seeks to:

  1. Conserve the ecosystem functions in the landscape through an adequate mix of on and off-farm interventions
  2. Address the ongoing deforestation and loss of soil and water retention in priority zone
  3. Improve the living conditions of cocoa farmers through diversified income and land tenure security
  4. Create incentives to maintain sustainably managed cocoa plantations

Achieving the overall project goals requires addressing the farm and landscape level by collaborating with local, regional, national, and international actors. The project’s interventions are based on the following mutually reinforcing outcomes:

Firstly, at the landscape level, the project is supporting a variety of interventions to preserve key ecosystem services like soil fertility and water retention. To ensure the success of these and other activities – such as reforestation and implementation of anti-erosion measures – the managerial and administrative capacity of the local landscape governance body (Comité de Gestion de Bassin Versant Sambirano COGEBS) is being strengthened. This includes creation of legally defined consultation units in each commune to facilitate citizen participation in decision-making.

Secondly, at the farm level, the project is supporting the adoption and maintenance of agroforestry-based cocoa cultivation among farming families, as well as protection of their property rights and integration into value chains.

CDE engagement

In collaboration with project leader Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation and various cocoa-related private actors, CDE is in charge of several key project activities. In particular, CDE is establishing a landscape-level monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) mechanism to support decision-making in Madagascar’s Sambirano watershed.

Relevant data collection is being collaboratively implemented with diverse stakeholders along the cocoa value chain, including family farmers. Corresponding use of satellite imagery and geographic information systems makes it possible to observe changes in the landscape. The MEL mechanism steers the project activities towards sustainability in cooperation with local stakeholders – in particular with local farmers who are cultivating cocoa in agroforestry systems.

Info box
Duration 2023 – 2027
Funding Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO)

Swiss Platform for Sustainable Cocoa

Partners Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation

Lindt & Sprüngli AG, Villars Maître Chocolatier SA, Pronatec AG, Migros, Walter Matter SA, Max Felchlin AG, Touton SA

Contact Dr. O. Ravaka Andriamihaja