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- Côte d’Ivoire: Cacao, another cause of deforestation

As has been the case with most Southern countries, Côte d’Ivoire inherited from the colonial period the role of exporter of tropical agricultural products. Apart from the ivory from which the country was named, prior to colonization Côte d’Ivoire had less to offer for trading compared to its eastern neighboring country Ghana, more endowed with gold. So, when the French arrived in the area in the 1880s they found it simple to use the vast fertile land of dense tropical forest for agricultural production.

France's colonial division of labour determined that Côte d'Ivoire was to supply French markets with cash crops, so colonial authorities introduced the cultivation of cacao by 1912. That was the beginning of the cacao story in the country. Late in the 1900s, France's trading organization in West Africa, with firms like the Compagnie Française d'Afrique Occidentale (the first French trading company in Côte d'Ivoire), laid the foundations for a capitalist farming development, including research stations in the south for the improvement of varieties of seeds and plant diseases treatment. This type of development did not change significantly after the country's independence in 1960.

Each year, Côte d'Ivoire produces about 40 percent of the world's cocoa for the production of chocolate. Cacao is planted on large scale plantations and by individual farmers, and it has affected heavily the tropical rainforests of the country. From 12 million hectares, the Ivorian humid tropical forest decreased to some 2.6 million hectares nowadays. The area of cacao plantations has increased from 500,000 hectares in 1975 to some 2 million hectares at present and have contributed to nearly 14% of the deforestation in the country.

Apart from the direct impact on forests, this type of agricultural development goes along with road building, which destroys additional kilometers of forest –directly by the road itself and indirectly through providing access to new forest areas for logging.

The impact of such a devastation has changed the ecosystem and affected flora and fauna as well as living conditions in rural areas. The use of agrochemicals has led to soil and water pollution. To make matters worse, the cultivation of different trees – cacao, coconut, rubber, coffee- implies the use of a different set of chemicals in the different plantations. Those chemicals affect the biological composition of the soil and have a negative impact on terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity. Chemicals in the soil are drained by rains into rivers and as a result rivers and streams now carry less fish than before. But above all is the visible desertification in the northern part of the country, that has altered the climate and the rainy season.

Besides destroying most of the country's rainforests –and exporting the resulting logs- the export-driven agriculture pattern has not prevented Côte d’Ivoire from ranking very low in the UN's Human Development Index (163th. in 180 countries rated); indeed, it is at the root of it.

Article based on information from: “Cocoa Trade in Cote d'Ivoire (COCOA)”, Trade and Environment Database (TED), http://www.american.edu/TED/cocoa.htm ; “Shade Grown Cacao”, Koffi N'Goran, http://nationalzoo.si.edu/ConservationAndScience/MigratoryBirds/


- Ghana: Loggers and politicians, not small farmers, are to blame for deforestation

Even by conservative estimates, less than a quarter of Ghana’s pre-colonial forest remains. Loggers and politicians caused most deforestation, though they like to shift the blame to farmers. But the fact is that throughout the Twentieth Century farmers have had little control over the trees on their land. British colonialists gave timber rights to chiefs, who promptly sold them to loggers, or ordered them cleared and replaced with cacao plantations. After independence, the government claimed ownership of all trees and land, and sold most of it off to loggers. Cocoa farmers followed the loggers, settling in the newly cleared areas. Because cacao trees grow better under shade, small farmers usually conserve forest cover. But decades of bad forest policies and a corrupt forest department meant that farmers received no compensation —only ruined fields— for the trees that logging companies cut from their land. Government officials —often receiving kick-backs from loggers— set extremely low royalties on logged trees, and failed to collect most anyway. Booming foreign demand in Asia combined with new timber mills financed by the World Bank plunged the timber sector into crisis.

Reforms in the 1990s came too little and too late. After substantial civil society and donor pressure, the government reluctantly implemented a few token reforms to involve communities in scattered projects. But farmers still have no say over forest policies, over whether their land is given off as a concession, nor over which trees companies cut from their backyards.

By blaming farmers, politicians and loggers evade responsibility. Similar scapegoating happens in Madagascar, Senegal and many other countries across Africa. Such stories about destructive slash-and-burn farmers are then picked up by naïve scholars and self-seeking international agro-input companies. Fertilizer companies say governments must get ‘destructive’ ‘slash-and-burn’ farmers to buy more fertilizer in order to raise productivity on existing land thereby stopping expansion. Biotechnology firms argue that new genetically engineered seeds will enable farmers to boost yields on current land. In the process, we are blinded to the real villains, and we lose opportunities for real changes in policy and government to foster conservation and rehabilitation.

By: Aaron deGrassi, e-mail: degrassi@ocf.berkeley.edu

Note based on: deGrassi, Aaron (2003). Constructing Subsidiarity, Consolidating Hegemony: Political Economy and Agro-Ecological Processes in Ghanaian Forestry. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute. Environmental Governance in Africa Working Paper No. 13. deGrassi, Aaron (2003). (Mis)Understanding change in agro-environmental technology in Africa: Charting and refuting the myth of population-induced breakdown. In, Zeleza, P. T. and Kakoma, I. (eds.), In search of modernity: Science and technology in Africa. Trenton: Africa World Press. pp. 473-505.


- Senegal: Deforestation by expansion of groundnut monoculture

Senegalese exposure to European trade started in 1444 when the Portuguese established trading posts along the coast on the river Senegal: Goree (which eventually became a major slave transit post), Rufisque and along the south as a whole.

Reflective of the European struggles for power along Africa’s coast, the Portuguese were displaced by the Dutch and these eventually by the French. During the time around World War 2, French colonists promoted cultivation of groundnuts (peanuts) as an export cash crop. Monoculture groundnut crops encouraged clear cutting and contributed to deforestation and desertification. Forced labour for roads to export groundnuts accompanied this conversion and prevented local people from growing native African rice, which had cultural and spiritual connotations for them. After colonialism, the French continued trying to sever the ties between the traditional ethnic groups of Senegal and their forests and rice fields in order to keep them cultivating groundnuts for French markets.

Historically, Senegal used proceeds from groundnut exports to finance food imports, especially cereals imports such as rice and wheat. Since the 1970s, however, falling world prices for groundnuts and its related products, poor weather conditions, domestic and international economic shocks, in addition to the emergence of substitutes, significantly reduced the earning potential of groundnut exports for Senegal. Groundnut production also led to the environmental degradation of an already fragile ecosystem (the Sahel). It also impedes the production of major food crops such as millet, sorghum, rice and maize. Decreasing groundnut proceeds coupled with rising food imports, estimated at 700,000 tons per year, led to chronic balance of payment crises for the Senegalese government.

In spite of that Senegal is still at present among the world's leading exporters of groundnuts. This crop, on which Senegal’s economy is dependent, uses an increasing share (more than one-half) of the national cultivated area in an ecological zone subject to recurring drought cycles.

Deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion, desertification, constitute some of Senegal's major environmental challenges, caused in part by the rapid expansion of and continued dependence on peanut cultivation. These signs of environmental degradation are even more visible in the Groundnut Basin area. In the 1960s, the state encouraged farmers to cut down trees as a way to expand areas for groundnut crops, creating a vicious pattern of deforestation, soil erosion, flooding, and periodic drought which have devastated regional agriculture. The vast majority of the peoples of the Sahel and Sahelo-Sudan region depends on agriculture for their livelihoods, but due to soil degradation and desertification, the ability of these people to support themselves is becoming increasingly precarious.

The following example illustrates the general situation in many parts of the country:

"In the department of Bambey, some 100 km from Dakar, there is not much to catch the eye. The landscape runs on endlessly, broken by nothing more than a few stunted trees buried under the dust. Sandstorms ravage the area, from January to May. The soil has lost its protective cover and lies exposed to the relentless forces of wind and sun. Here and there, between the scattered villages, a few flocks struggle for survival, nibbling at the last dried remnants of grass left from the previous winter. And yet, 'this valley used to grow peanuts that were the pride of the Baol-Baol and Sérère tribesmen', the chairman of the rural community of Lambaye likes to recall. He still cannot come to terms with the drop in peanut yields, or the damage that this crop has done to the soil. Today, many of the villages of Senegal are losing their people: the men are deserting them for Touba, Dakar, or lands abroad. Only the women and children are left behind."

Article based on information from: “Casamance River’s Native Rice Bonds Sacred Traditions”, Mark Millar, http://www.cmaq.net/es/node.php?id=16588 ; “Senegal’s Trade in Groundnuts: Economic, Social and Environmental Implications”, Coura Badiane, http://www.american.edu/TED/senegal-groundnut.htm

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