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Study calls for REDD+ money to boost yields in West Africa using agrochemicals

Small-scale agriculture — including cocoa, cassava, and oil palm farming — has driven large-scale conversion West Africa tropical forests, reports new research published in the journal Environmental Management.

The study found that most cocoa expansion in West Africa’s Guinean rainforest region occurred at the expense of forests. While production in the region doubled between 1987 and 2007, low-input smallholder agriculture accounted for much of the expansion. The researchers say some deforestation could have been avoided had farmers adopted chemical fertilizers and agrochemicals instead of using organic farming techniques.

“Through the intensified use of fertilizer and agrochemicals coupled with improved crop husbandry… farmers would have doubled their incomes and helped to avoid deforestation and degradation on 2.1 million hectares,” says a press release issued by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), one of the groups involved in the study. “In the process, this would have generated a value of over [1.6 billion] dollars on 1.3 billion tons of CO2 emissions that would not have come from deforestation.

The authors call for using funds generated by the proposed reducing carbon emissions due to deforestation and degradation (REDD) mechanism to boost yields and therefore avoid deforestation in other areas where there is still forest left to convert. Less than 20 percent of the Guinean rainforest of West Africa — a global biodiversity hostpot — remains.

“There is a risk that if REDD interventions are only implemented within the forestry sector, while extensive low input agriculture, the fundamental driver of deforestation in the region and the root cause of most rural poverty, gets neglected,” said Gockowski. “This would be a mistake.”

Gockowski and colleagues estimate the value of avoided carbon emissions at $565 per hectare for achieving a doubling of cocoa yields.

“A significant proportion of REDD+ funding should be used to increase the adoption and level of fertilizer use in a ‘fertilizers for forest’ mitigation program,” stated the press release.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the authors factored in potential environmental impacts associated with chemical fertilizers and agrochemicals into their research.

Unlike Southeast Asia and the Amazon, smallholder agriculture is the biggest driver of deforestation in West Africa.

CITATION: Gockowski and Sonwa (2011). Cocoa intensification scenarios and their predicted impact on CO2 emissions, biodiversity conservation and rural livelihoods in the Guinea Rainforest of West Africa. Environmental Management.

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Could forest conservation payments undermine organic agriculture?

(09/07/2010) Forest carbon payment programs like the proposed reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) mechanism could put pressure on wildlife-friendly farming techniques by increasing the need to intensify agricultural production, warns a paper published this June in Conservation Biology. The paper, written by Jaboury Ghazoul and Lian Pin Koh of ETH Zurich and myself in September 2009, posits that by increasing the opportunity cost of conversion of forest land for agriculture, REDD will potentially constrain the amount of land available to meet growing demand for food. Because organic agriculture and other biodiversity-friendly farming practices generally have lower yields than industrial agriculture, REDD will therefore encourage a shift toward from more productive forms of food production.