People the world over consume chocolate, yet very few can ever imagine how the process of producing the raw material for chocolate – cocoa – contributes to deforestation, global warming and climate change. The initial biodiversity loss begins when vast swathes of forests are cut down and burned to provide land for planting of cocoa trees. This is followed by the cutting down of forests to fetch wood for drying of cocoa beans, during which black carbon is emitted as a short-lived climate pollutant. In the cocoa production cycle, a fundamental aspect that determines the quantity of wood fuel used in drying the beans and also crucial to the taste of chocolate is the fermentation process.
For cocoa farmers in Muea in the South West Region of Cameroon, aside from not respecting the optimal conditions of proper fermentation such as number of days and temperature monitoring, they have not practiced any fermentation method other than dumping the beans in heaps on banana leaves and covering them with tarpaulin, or stuffing the cocoa beans in jute bags. This approach makes the beans to end up with a liquefied mucilage coating instead of being completely drained of cocoa beans pulp. With such fermentation method, drying one ton of cocoa requires approximately one ton of firewood
In December 2014, following four days of consultation meetings on climate change with farmers in Muea, in the South West Region of Cameroon, farmers were unanimous in expressing the need to be trained on a fermentation method that could reduce the amount of firewood they fetch from the forest. In collaboration with Green Foundation Cameroon (GreFCam), Eco Relief launched the pilot initiative to train farmers on the construction and use of wooden boxes as a novel fermentation method. These wooden boxes have been in use in countries such as Papua New Guinea, Vietnam and Indonesia, with remarkable results – except that in Cameroon they have not been trialled or used on a wide scale.
Using baseline data for comparative analysis, results from the project indicated that cocoa fermentation using wooden boxes reduced wood consumption by an average of 35 to 40 percent, while emissions of black carbon during combustion dropped by 29%. This, indeed is a modest way to curb deforestation given that cutting of wood for cocoa drying is an INEVITABLE process. As an incentive to make farmers adopt fermentation using wooden boxes, it came as positive news that using the wood fermentation method produced cocoa of higher quality that attracted higher prices per kilogramme from buyers. By building farmers' capacity to curb deforestation with better cocoa fermentation methods while boosting income from producing high quality cocoa, Eco Relief brings a win-win scenario for farmers to alleviate poverty while protecting the environment.