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Trajectories of cocoa agroforests and their drivers over time: Lessons from the Cameroonian experience

Jagoret P., Todem Ngnogue H., Malézieux E., Michel I.. 2018. European Journal of Agronomy, 101 : p. 183-192.

DOI: 10.1016/j.eja.2018.09.007

Since its origins, cocoa growing has gone through a series of crises and booms, with a shift in production areas at the expense of tropical forests. Nowadays, the recent sharp rise in the global demand for cocoa more than ever calls into question the future of these forest resources. Nevertheless, in contrast with the dominant technical models, often unsustainable, part of global cocoa growing is based on complex agroforestry systems which are, in many cases, very old and still managed by farmers. To better understand the genesis and the functioning of these systems over time, we analysed the evolution of 30 cocoa agroforests, most of which were several decades old, located in central Cameroon. In this region, cocoa growing has been developing since the 1930s and experienced major changes in contexts, including the severe crisis of the 1990s. By combining field observations and historical survey data, we reconstructed the impacts of these changes over time on management practices, agroforestry structures and cocoa yields. We formalized five cocoa agroforests trajectories closely linked to main phases of cocoa growing in central Cameroon, each phase leading to changes in farmers' practices. These trajectories explain the current agroforests structures, with low (1180¿in.¿ha-1) or high cocoa tree densities (2190¿in.¿ha-1), mean basal area per cocoa tree which ranged from 29.4¿cm2 to 92.7¿cm2, and finally cocoa yields which varied from 542.7 to 1275.7¿kg ha-1. Our results show how the management of interacting species allows a system balance that can be temporarily broken or redesigned, suggesting the resilient and flexible nature of these complex cocoa agroforests. The properties of these cocoa agroforests¿gradually built over time¿enable adaptations and their transmission during difficult times. To cope with current challenges facing global cocoa production, we recommend that these cocoa agroforests serve as a basis to promote new cocoa cropping models to better reconcile cocoa production and the preservation of forest resources.

Mots-clés : theobroma cacao; agroforesterie; technique de culture; rendement des cultures; pratique culturale; modélisation des cultures; production végétale intégrée; ressource forestière; cameroun

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