The program aims to deploy an Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM) approach that embraces an integrated system’s approach to cocoa intensification while combining improved planting materials, canopy cover management and pest/disease control with targeted fertilizer application to enhance sustainability and avoid deforestation. This is complemented by (re)-use of locally available (organic) nutrient sources and appropriate intercropping.

The project is constructed around an R4D (research for development) component, aiming at generating new knowledge on cocoa ISFM that is led by both international and national research institutions and a P4D (partnerships for delivery) component which ensures that such knowledge gets into the hands of cocoa farmers
The R4D component delivers 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. Therefore, the partners of the program are setting up ‘Core and Satellite R4D trials to help provide site specific ISFM/fertilizer recommendations across West Africa. The Core trials are long term, researcher-managed, and multilocational trials of at least two hectares with a factorial design looking at optimal nutrient compositions and rates for cocoa. These newly established trials are expected to run for over 10-15 years. The first relevant data from these trials are expected in 2021 (year 4 of the project). In addition to the Core Trials, smaller trials (Satellite Trials) will be established in existing cocoa plantations and aimed at creating the link between the Core Trials and actual plantations, managed by farmers to test different fertiliser combinations and shade interactions to examine the effects on yield under field conditions.

They are multilocational trials with a simple design and one replicate per plantation, replicated many times. Factors identified in the baseline study will be integrated in the design of these trials.

The results from these two types of trials will inform recommendations that will be delivered to farmers through the P4D mechanism that utilises existing service delivery channels by both public and private sector partners to achieve better yields and improve sustainability of cocoa production. The main content of the P4D component consist of training activities on best agronomic practices with a major emphasis on ISFM. Training activities will be implemented through existing activities and focus on ‘training-of-trainer’ approaches, supported with relevant training materials. The P4D also facilitates engagement in cocoa-related policy discussions and appropriate M&E support.

R4D-P4D Plan

Improving Cocoa Productivity

Research for Development outputs
Over a 5-year period, the program will generate extra knowledge in relation to cocoa intensification and deliver on the following outputs:

  1. A set of integrated soil fertility management options: Guidelines have been developed to promote replacement of the nutrients that are removed from the field to avoid soil mining. A fertilizer response model is being established following the QUEFTS principles. It will work in more than 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 are being 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 are being 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:
    • Identification of representative trial sites under current and future climates.
    • Scale indicators and recommendations of trials to spatial domains based on an agroecological zone approach.
    • Ex-ante assessment of climate smart cocoa (CSC)intensification packages and interventions on overall cocoa suitability across West-Africa.
    • Quantification of the impact of intensification scenarios on forest protection and deforestation.
  5. A sustainability assessment tool: A tool is being developed to assess the implications of different scenarios for CSC for biodiversity and ecosystem services. Outcomes of the analyses will be discussed during multi-stakeholder workshops involving partners, businesses, civil societies and governments.
  6. An open knowledge and data sharing portal: An open data and knowledge sharing portal is being established to 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 are being developed and trialled.
  7. A new cadre of PhD and MSc-holding cocoa scientists: To address the skills gap on cocoa science and production the program is training the next generation of (African) cocoa production scientists skilled in a range of disciplines (mineral nutrition, crop physiology, production ecology).

Improving Farmer Livelihoods

Partnership for Development (P4D) outputs: facilitating access to knowledge by cocoa farmers

The CocoaSoils Program supports the move towards the greater involvement of multiple partners (i.e. government extension systems, the private sector, NGOs, farmer organizations and community-based extension workers) in cocoa service provision to reach 90,000 smallholder cocoa farmers directly and another 180,000 indirectly. The P4D component of the program combines state of the art scientific research with the latest extension delivery innovations to develop training manuals for dissemination of locally appropriate knowledge to address the challenging issue of soil fertility management for cocoa and other management practices. The program 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 are being 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 and 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, are being organized to familiarize extension agents with information in relation to climate-smart intensification of cocoa production. Emphasis are placed on the correct use of the extension 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 analyses the existing policy frameworks in the target countries, and engages 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 have been designed both to deliver and to gather feedback and are being implemented through field visits by extension agents, the use of mobile phones and other methods.

Target Groups

  1. Smallholder cocoa farmers will benefit through enhanced cocoa productivity, better income, and improved livelihoods
  2. National research and extension agents will have necessary skills and state-of-the art knowledge and tools
  3. Policymakers will be empowered to support the smallholder cocoa sector while protecting the environment
  4. Society as a whole will reap the rewards of avoided deforestation.

Core Trial Locations