Sustainable intensification of cocoa production through the development and dissemination of integrated soil fertility management

Enhancing cocoa productivity and nutrient use efficiency requires a deeper understanding of the nutrient requirements of the cocoa tree and the roles and physiological responses to different nutrients. Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) recommendations will be developed based on medium- and long-term data from carefully planned and consistently managed nutrient response trials following agreed protocols and resource commitments Specific ISFM and other productivity-enhancing recommendations will be delivered towards the sustainable intensification of cocoa production. The program will be implemented through public-private partnerships with leading partners IITA and WUR in collaboration with CIAT, ICRAF, UNEP-WCMC, NARS (including CNRA, CRIG, CRIN, IRAD , and Universities), cocoa authorities, fertilizer industry partners, cocoa industry partners and IDH.


The program is constructed around public-private partnerships between the cocoa industry and the (inter)national R&D community to address major gaps in the knowledge base required to close cocoa yield gaps and deliver this knowledge to cocoa farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. A total amount of about 11.5 million USD is requested to the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) for a 5-year period to deliver on a R4D (Research for Development) program focusing on cocoa agronomy and nutrient management and a P4D (Partnerships for Delivery) program to reach at least 90,000 cocoa farmers through existing dissemination networks based on the R4D component. The programs will be implemented through a consortium led by IITA and WUR with direct engagement of National Research Systems (NARS) in the target countries, international research centres (CIAT, ICRAF, UNEP-WCMC ); and the cocoa and fertilizer industries, convened through the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH).


Poor soil fertility is a root cause underlying the decline in productivity the cocoa sector has seen over the past decades. Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) proposes a stepwise intensification of cocoa production, combining improved varieties, canopy management and pest/disease control with targeted fertilizer applications complemented by (re-)use of locally available (organic) nutrient sources and appropriate intercrops/shade trees. The efficiency and profitability of fertilizer in cocoa must be improved yet we lack a fundamental understanding of the mineral nutrition of cocoa. Enhancing nutrient use efficiency requires a deeper understanding of the nutrient requirements of the cocoa tree and the roles and physiological responses to different nutrients.


The proposed program covers Research for Development (R4D) and extension or Partnerships for Development (P4D) components, addressing the need to (i) generate extra knowledge in relation to cocoa intensification and (ii) facilitating access to such knowledge by cocoa farmers. The R4D component will be led by the international and national research institutes while the P4D component will be implemented through existing and active dissemination networks for smallholder cocoa farmers. The industry partners will be active on two level. They can opt to “adopt a trial” and as such contribute to the R4D component or they can engage in the dissemination of the generated knowledge by field testing the extension tools and methods developed under the P4D component.


Research for Development outputs: generate extra knowledge in relation to cocoa intensification

The R4D component will deliver site-specific ISFM recommendations adapted to soil, climate and crop management conditions (including shade trees). These recommendations require long-term data from carefully planned and consistently managed nutrient response trials across environments and crop management systems, underpinned by a better understanding of the physiological basis governing nutrient use. The consortium will deliver the following R4D outputs over a 5-year period:

  1. A set of integrated soil fertility management options: Guidelines will be developed to promote replacement of the nutrients that are removed from the field to avoid soil mining. A fertilizer response model will be established following the QUEFTS principles. It will work in >80% of the tropical soils where cocoa is cultivated and allows fertilizer recommendations to be developed.
  2. Understanding the physiological basis of cocoa nutrient uptake and use: Physiological responses of different cocoa genotypes to nutritional treatments and the interactions with shade management will be studied. The interactions between potassium nutrition and drought stress will receive special focus as this provides a mechanism for adaptation to climate change.
  3. A decision support system for intensifying cocoa production: A set of tools will be developed with prospective users (extension agents and farmers) for enhanced cocoa farm productivity while adapting to a changing climate and contributing to forest conservation that include recommendations for improved mineral nutrition and soil fertility management within a general set of good agricultural practice (GAP) guidelines.
  4. Identification of recommendation domains and impact of sustainable intensification on forest pressure: Four key activities will guide the project: (1) Identification of representative trial sites under current and future climates; (2) Scale indicators and recommendations of trials to spatial domains based on an agroecological zone approach; (3) Ex-ante assessment of cocoa CSA intensification packages and interventions on overall cocoa suitability across West-Africa; and (4) Quantification of the impact of intensification scenarios on forest protection and deforestation.
  5. A sustainability assessment tool: A tool will be developed to assess the implications of different scenarios for climate smart cocoa for biodiversity and ecosystem services Outcomes of the analyses will be discussed during multi-stakeholder workshops involving business, civil society and government.
  6. An open knowledge and data sharing portal: We will establish an open data and knowledge sharing portal and bring all background research and knowledge on cocoa into the public domain. This will be linked to the Global Open Data in Agriculture Network (GODAN; Novel extension methods involving radio and applications for hand held devices will be developed and trialled.
  7. A new cadre of PhD and MSc-holding cocoa scientists: To address the skills gap on cocoa science and production we will train the next generation of (African) cocoa production scientists skilled in a range of disciplines (mineral nutrition, crop physiology, production ecology).

Partnership for Development outputs: facilitating access to knowledge by cocoa farmers

The P4D component will facilitate access to new knowledge generated to cocoa farmers by developing dissemination tools, facilitating training-of-trainer events, engagement in policy discussion related to the cocoa sector, and facilitating appropriate M&E support. The consortium will deliver the following R4D outputs over a 5-year period through engaging with existing dissemination networks:

  1. Agreements with private and/or governmental scaling partners: Products and services from the R4D component will be integrated into existing dissemination networks, facilitated by private, non-governmental and/or governmental partners.
  2. Appropriate extension tools for integration in partner-led scaling: These can take various forms from single sheet tools with limited use of words to mobile phone applications. Interactions with users are critical. As the R4D component of this initiative advances, new knowledge generated will be integrated in subsequent versions of the extension tools. Evaluation and validation workshops will be held with dissemination partners to ensure that updates are aligned to the needs of cocoa farmers and extension agents accompanying them.
  3. Appropriate training-of-trainers manuals for use in the training sessions for extension agents: Training-of-trainer sessions, backstopped by appropriate training manuals, will be organized to familiarize extension agents with information in relation climate-smart intensification of cocoa production. Emphasis will be placed on the correct use of the extensions tools and implementation of the M&E processes.
  4. Engagement in policy action in support of cocoa intensification: The cocoa sector in the target countries is strongly influenced by policy frameworks and decisions. This initiative will analyse the existing policy frameworks in the target countries, and engage with policymakers and policy agencies to ensure appropriate policy development.
  5. Appropriate monitoring, evaluation and learning (ME&L) tools and processes: Dissemination of best practices requires reflexive ME&L processes to assess the uptake and performance of promoted practices. Tools will be designed both to deliver and to gather feedback and will be implemented through field visits by extension agents, the use of mobile phones and other methods.


The geographic distribution of the trials will cover the environmental conditions and system diversity (modest shading/full-sun) of key cocoa production areas and selection of sites will be based on sound geo-spatial analysis. Consistent trial design for the long-term trials, data collection, data sharing, and data analysis will be agreed upon at the start of this initiative. Trials are envisaged in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Brazil, Ecuador, Indonesia and the Philippines and will be hosted and maintained by different partners (private sector, IITA, NARS) following agreed protocols and resource commitments. Data and results, once checked and analysed, will be shared publicly in a pre-competitive way through an open knowledge and data sharing portal on the internet.



A consortium of public and private partners has been established to deliver on above agenda, building on previous work of the Cocoa Fertilizer Initiative. The consortium will be led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and will team up with key international organizations (CIAT, ICRAF, UNEP-WCMC) and NARS (including CNRA, CRIG, CRIN, IRAD, and Universities), fertilizer industry partners, and major cocoa industry partners. IDH will coordinate and provide a pre-competitive convening space to guide the initiative and ensure research addresses the needs of diverse stakeholders. IITA and WUR provide coordination, science leadership and build capacity of partners, and supervision of PhD and MSc students. Private sector partners have committed to provide key cocoa/fertilizer knowledge, financial support and implementation of the long-term trials. National cocoa authorities and research organizations provide expertise, help build PhD and MSc capacity and avail trial sites and facilities.

Richard Asare IITA


Renske Aarnoudse IDH

Lotte Woittiez WUR