A way to save chocolate which also saves the world

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Cover crops provide hope for Ghana's chocolate farming, and might well save the planet too

words Rhys Thomas

Chocolate, we’ve been eating, drinking and even using it as skincare for time. As far as beans go, it’s one of our favourites. No shade, baked beans. Speaking of shade, cocoa has been in desperate need of it. See the climate crisis is causing a choco-crisis too. Rising temperatures, sunnier days, drought, and pests linked to global warming have been causing our cocoa yields to fall dramatically, meaning less choccy is available, and it is getting expensive (not the only reason Freddos cost more than a Balenciaga hoodie).

This is because cocoa needs a hot and humid climate in which to grow. The dry seasons and droughts countries are experiencing mean the beans end up too dry to survive. The sun is also literally scorching plants, affecting yield further.

But there’s good news. A solution has been found! It’s called the Sankofa project. Sankofa is a Twi word meaning “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind”, or “going back”. The Akan tribe created the word, and it is often symbolised by a heron (fyi).

What’s so special about the Sankofa project, then?

Essentially, the project is introducing a cover cropping farming practise to the cocoa, and so far results have been great. Cover cropping is the idea of planting foods and other plants alongside the crop you’re actually trying to grow, in order to help it. Help comes through things like biodiversity, more nutrients, and also practical things like shade and increased humidity (a microclimate which is tailored to help the crops you want to grow).

In this case, the farmers can benefit from being able to grow additional crops such as avocado, yam, mucuna beans and more alongside (well, above) their cacao, generating more revenue too. So far almost 400 farmers have joined, and many are reportedly seeing more durability in their crops (less are dying) and they’re also seeing more life on the farm, such as butterflies and other pollinators.

How will this save the world?

It will save chocolate – and a world with chocolate is better than without it, for us and for the people whose livelihoods rely on it. That aside, cover crops could well be part of the solution to the world’s problems.

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The idea of cover crops is used in regenerative farming to improve biodiversity and soil health. It’ll even help to allow pests (or bugs, if we’re being nice) to eat things that aren’t the cacao, reducing the need for artificial fertilisers and ‘cides (pesticides, herbicides, fungicides), which are detrimental to soil health, biodiversity, and ultimately the land. Soil health is key to helping the planet, as it can stop floods, help food to survive harsher climates, and even store carbon (when combined with low-intervention farming). Who knew letting nature do its thing would be so effective!

Wildfarmed, a regenerative farming company in the UK, talks about cover crops and a planet-saving approach to farming a lot, if you want to learn more.

Who came up with this solution?

Cover crops have been used forever, but regarding saving the cocoa in Ghana – Fairtrade Africa, the International Trade Centre, and Halba (who call themselves “the leading producer of sustainable Swiss chocolate”) have been working closely with a farming cooperative called KKFU, which produces a tenth of The Republic of Ghana’s cacao. It’s located across the Ahafo region of the West African country.

How can I get involved?

Eat chocolate? But not all chocolate, their chocolate. Responsible chocolate which is conscious of the planet before all else. That aside, let people know about the power of cover crops!

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