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Afforestation of savannah with cocoa agroforestry systems: a small-farmer innovation in central Cameroon

Jagoret P., Michel-Dounias I., Snoeck D., Ngnogue H.T., Malézieux E.. 2012. AgroForestry Systems, 86 (3) : p. 493-504.

DOI: 10.1007/s10457-012-9513-9

Cocoa cultivation is generally considered to foster deforestation. Contrary to this view, in the forest-savannah interface area in Cameroon, farmers have planted cocoa agroforestry systems on Imperata cylindrica grasslands, a soil-climate zone generally considered unsuitable for cocoa cultivation. We undertook a survey to understand the agricultural and ecological bases of this innovation. Age, cropping history and marketable cocoa yield were assessed in a sample of 157 cocoa plantations established on grasslands and 182 cocoa plantations established in gallery forests. In a sub-sample of 47 grassland cocoa plantations, we inventoried tree species associated with cocoa trees and measured soil organic matter levels. Marketable cocoa yields were similar for the two types of cocoa plantations, regardless of their age: 321 kg ha-1 in cocoa plantations on grasslands and 354 kg ha-1 in cocoa plantations in gallery forests. Two strategies were used by farmers to eliminate I. cylindrica prior to the establishment of cocoa plantations, i.e., cropping oil palms in dense stands and planting annual crops. Farmers then planted cocoa trees and fruit tree species, while preserving specific forest trees. The fruit tree and forest tree densities respectively averaged 223 and 68 trees ha-1 in plantations under 10 years old, and 44 and 27 trees ha-1 in plantations over 40 years old, whereas the cocoa tree density remained stable at 1,315 trees ha-1. The Shannon-Weaver index increased from 1.97 to 2.26 over the same period although the difference was not statistically significant. The soil organic matter level was 3.13 % in old cocoa plantations, as compared to 1.7 % in grasslands. In conclusion, our results show that the occupation of grasslands by cocoa agroforestry systems is both an important example of ecological intensification and a significant farmer innovation in the history of cocoa growing.

Mots-clés : theobroma cacao; agroforesterie; forêt; savane; prairie; innovation; imperata cylindrica; intensification; petite exploitation agricole; rendement des cultures; biodiversité; fertilité du sol; forêt tropicale; cameroun; forêt galerie; cameroun centre

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