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Chocolate with wings: Supporting bird-friendly cocoa production

Towards cocoa farming that benefits birds and communities

This project aims to support migratory bird conservation and promote sustainable cocoa agriculture that benefits birds and people. Cocoa agriculture is expanding rapidly in Africa, with countries such as Côte d’Ivoire having lost up to 80% of their forests. Areas that originally were forested are now covered by cocoa farms; yet these areas continue to be the wintering destination of many migratory birds. With this project, we will investigate which measures can be taken to make cocoa plantations better for birds, and implement them in Ivorian farms, making cocoa consumption more eco-friendly.

Domain Research
Unit Bird Migration
Topic Ecology, Habitat Promotion, Migratory Birds
Habitat farmland, forest
Project start 2022
Project completion 2026
Project status ongoing
Project management Barbara Helm
Project region Africa

Details

Project objectives

We aim to make cocoa agriculture more bird-friendly by pursuing three objectives: first, alongside Ivorian researchers, we will investigate which specific actions can be taken in cocoa farms to promote bird populations, such as inter-cropping cocoa with species of shade trees that support high bird diversity. Then, we will implement these actions in a selection of farms in Côte d’Ivoire. Third, through strong collaboration with local partners we will strengthen capacity of farmers and cooperative workers in order to ensure that bird-friendly production is sustainable and locally-driven.

Methodology

Through collaboration with Ivorian ornithologists, we will survey birds in a range of cocoa plantations over 2 years, covering 2 winter seasons when migrants are present. Surveys will include visual sightings and acoustic detections of bird species, and scientists will record which shade trees are being used by birds for foraging. These data will be combined with data acquired from local cooperatives on farm productivity and management. Data analyses will allow us to identify optimal management actions, which we will then implement in a range of farms with the help of cooperative networks.

Significance

Cocoa is the fastest expanding export-oriented crop in Africa; with increased consumption, especially from northern countries such as Switzerland, more and more land in West Africa is being converted to agriculture. However, cocoa plantations can be maintained in a way that benefits both biodiversity and human populations: wild animals such as birds, bats and insects provide important services in cocoa plantations such as controlling pest populations and pollination. Thus, farms managed for biodiversity can also result in higher and more sustainable yields for local farmers.

Results

Initial field work in Côte d’Ivoire involved the selection of 28 study cocoa farms, in which all shade trees were identified and counted, and birds were surveyed. Researchers identified more than 34 species of shade trees planted within the cocoa farms, and bird surveys detected 109 different bird species utilising cocoa habitats, 13 of which are migratory.

Further information

Previous studies have shown that African cocoa farms serve as non-breeding habitat for migratory birds such as the Wood warbler. Additionally, scientists have quantified the effect of insectivorous wild animals in African cocoa farms, finding that under low-intensity management these animals save farmers up to 440 CHF per hectare per year, by controlling pest populations. These services can outweigh short-term benefits of agricultural intensification. Therefore, there is potential for win-win scenarios where birds are conserved in plantations thus promoting natural processes that boost yields.

Project partner(s)

Financial support

  • Anonymous Foundation

Publications

Employees

Species concerned

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Unit

Bird Migration

We research migratory birds from their breeding grounds to Africa and lay the foundations for their protection beyond national borders.

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